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Gimmors and Devices

Chapter Text

O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention! -- Henry V, Act I, Scene 1.

The first two clockwork men were only toys, a Christmas gift for a ten-year-old boy king that its designer began on the day the lad was crowned.

Like most brassheads--so called after the first such artifact which had been crafted by the scientist-monk Roger Bacon more than a century before--the clockwork men were designed to be human-like in appearance without being able to pass for human. Both were crafted to look like grown knights in chain mail...armor which concealed buttons that could be pushed in various patterns, each pattern corresponding to a different dueling style. Their longswords were both blunt-edged practice weapons, since they would be fencing with a human child as well as each other. Their helmets--Spanish style with movable visors, rather than the visorless bascinet which bulged out like the long muzzle of a hound that English knights favored--were welded onto their heads, and their staring faces were bronze set with crystal eyes.

Ten-going-on-eleven-year-old Eleanor de Bohun found them fascinating.

"You like the oddest things, Nell," her twenty-one-year-old husband said one evening after Eleanor had been going on about science and brassheads for longer than he felt was strictly necessary. "Honestly, Nell, sitting in an old laboratory for hours each day, doing mathematical calculations and watching a Franciscan nossie--"

"Prognosticator," Eleanor corrected.

Thomas of Woodstock chuckled and then continued. "--a nossie, as the commons and my brothers call them, designing and building clockwork men. Hours and hours of detail on something you won't use. It's as bad as needlework."

This last, Eleanor knew, was Thomas's teasing, for she liked needlework and was quite good at it for her age. She also liked mathematics, logic and swordfighting. And, she was beginning to suspect, Baconian science. There was a clear and precise beauty to all these activities--reason X, design Y, do Z and you would get the result you desired.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asked. "I know it's not what most wives do--"

"Of course not," Thomas said gently. "This is your home now, lass. I want you to enjoy it. And why would I object to you wanting to learn and understand more about the world about us? It's a noble desire. And I doubt that the"--he spoke the word slowly and precisely this time, but his eyes were still glinting with mischief--"prognosticator will mind. I think he would have said something ere now if he cared that you were watching him at work."

The prognosticator, a monk from the Holy Roman Empire called Brother Cunradus Blicchece--or, as he told Eleanor, "Conrad the Lightning"--was willing enough to let her watch while he designed and built not only the young king's knights but also devices that would help the Woodstock tenant farmers harvest crops all the faster. Eleanor found the farming equipment quite dreary, and didn't understand at first why Brother Conrad fretted about it so.

"It is dangerous to improve too much too quickly," he replied in his clipped, precise French. "It would be possible to build a machine that could do the work of a thousand men. Which would be wonderful, yes, but the machine cannot feed a thousand starving families of a thousand angry farmers. And the machine cannot buy and sell goods as humans do. Make enough such harvesters, and the country will be bankrupt, besieged by men and women who have nothing left to lose." He shook his head. "It is better to make haste slowly. And safer--both for those who design brassheads and for those who pay for them."

Eleanor could understand this. In fact, she almost wished that she didn't. The notion of peasants rebelling was rather like that of brassheads rebelling--something alien to the very order of the universe.

"Don't you find making haste slowly rather hard?" she asked Brother Conrad. "After all, anyone nicknamed 'The Lightning'--"

Brother Conrad chuckled at this. "That is not because I am so quick,fille. It is because I am good at keraunology. I can craft small thunderstorms in glass jars, and the storms continue for months, even years, fueling my gimmors and brassheads. Many can design the machinery, but not everyone can make it run."

Eleanor thought that sounded suspiciously like pride, but then shrugged. He was good at what he did, after all. Being falsely humble about it would be silly.

"I like these," she said instead, lightly touching one of the mechanical knights on the arm. "But why did you give them faces? Most fencing dummies have helmets for heads instead."

"Because the king has enemies," Brother Conrad said, not looking up from the elbow of the other knight. The teeth of one small gear had got bent in testing today, causing the brasshead to keep lowering his sword at crucial moments. "I'll grant that there are not many hired killers of the size of these knights, but one is too many. If someone does creep into the king's bedchamber in such a disguise, I want King Richard's guards to think, 'Let us look beneath the visor and see if this creature be brasshead or being' and not 'We seek a human killer--not this faceless toy which we do not even notice.'"

"Is that why they don't look human?"

Brother Conrad nodded. "I could craft them to look far less mechanical. But--for the king's safety--it is better that there be nothing human about them. Nor would I want them to look too human and run afoul of the revivifiers."

Since the innovations of Baconian science had begun about a hundred years before, ushering in what scientists and philosophers called 'the Sophian Age of Mankind,' the Church had split into three camps: those of the Benedictines, who focused on prayer and hard work and left science to other folk; the Franciscans, who embraced the notion of science and mechanics as lights sent by God to guide humanity; and the Dominicans--sometimes called Domini canes, or "hounds of the Lord," by punning scholars--who saw science as a weapon against sin and evil. As the Dominican philosophy regarded death as a punishment rather than the natural process that the Franciscans claimed, it was not too surprising that the Dominicans had sought a way to resurrect humans, thus enabling more people's souls to be redeemed ere their bodies died a second, third or fourth time.

What was surprising was that they'd found a method of doing just this, involving copper, electrum, sea water...and a river of lightning sent into the heart, lungs and brain of a corpse. It didn't work in every case, but it worked often enough. The Dominicans called this "cheating the devil." The Franciscans called it "revivifying." And, to the Dominicans' everlasting disgust, that was the name that stuck, both in the Church and among lay people.

"I don't see why the revivifiers would care," Eleanor said at last, after turning the notion over in her mind for a bit. "They focus on resurrection, not brassheads."

Brother Conrad laughed bitterly. "Best not say that too loudly, fille. It is not wise to call it resurrection--that sounds too much like they are setting themselves up as the equal of our Lord. And they care because they fear things that look and act human without being human." He looked down at the knight he was repairing and smiled. "Look at it! Four different speeds. Eighty-six different moves. And it can learn and improve. The best brassheads from Bohemia can't do that!"

"They can learn?" This had never occurred to Eleanor before. "How? Tell me."

Brother Conrad shook his head. "The words would mean little to you."

"Then teach me. Thomas--er, I mean, my husband, the Duke of Gloucester--won't mind." After all, he'd already said that he didn't mind if she learned about the world around her, hadn't he?

He gave her a measured look, as if she herself were an odd device whose function he couldn't quite fathom. "It is not something I could teach you in a day--or even a month. It will take years of hard work."

"My husband won't mind," Eleanor repeated. "And even if he did, he still wouldn't object. He'd think of such knowledge as an asset."

Brother Conrad mulled this over. "Baconian science is rarely taught outside the Order these days--and never to one who could not become a monk." His eyes grew flinty. "Your oath on your soul that if I do teach you, you will reveal nothing to church, council or king. Some things must remain hidden, ja?"

***

And that was the beginning.

Eleanor was true to her oath, telling her husband only that Brother Conrad was providing her with lessons in science and mathematics. The other lessons in mechanics, physics, kinetics, engineering and keraunology she kept to herself, for Thomas seemed to have more than enough troubles. Things had begun going wrong before the coronation and they continued to do so long afterward.

She wasn't quite sure what was wrong. Part of it involved his much older brother, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, whom the commons had cast as a wicked and power-hungry uncle even before the coronation...though John's oldest son, Henry, was an occasional playfellow of his cousin-king, Dickon. And perhaps because John of Gaunt had had to step down from the council that was to guide and govern for the king until he came of age, neither Thomas's other elder brother--Edmund of Langley, the Duke of York--nor Thomas himself had quite the acclaim they felt they deserved. The king's friends got that. They were finely tinseled with land and titles as well, until they rivaled his royal uncles in power.

"Or rather surpass us," York said gloomily after one private supper four years later at Pleshey to which ffifteen-year-old Eleanor was not invited. Eleanor was neither surprised nor offended by this; of course her husband would rather talk over politics in private with his brothers than in the presence of his young wife. If she had had friends, she would have preferred something similar.

So she did not fuss about it. But she also took care to tell her maid that she would be going out in the garden that evening for a bit, and that she would having a late supper in her rooms. And Lizzie was wise enough to ask no questions, nor to take any notice when she saw Eleanor slipping into the cold pantry adjoining the dining hall the brothers would be using, a mercy for which Eleanor was grateful.

"The King can hardly allow his friends to surpass his kin forever, Ned," said Thomas in the same soothing tone he used to calm an injured hound that was growling. "He is but young."

"And likely to remain so," grumbled Gaunt. "Never have I seen a lad so unwilling to grow up and see sense. His extravagances are ruining the nation. There are too many in his entourage; we cannot pay for them all. Yet he will give them lands and castles and horses and feast them on thrice-daily banquets...and the treasury will not support this, Thomas. You know full well it will not."

"He needs time to grow," Thomas replied, looking weary. "We must give him time...and hold tight to the reins until he is of age."

"In other words," said York, clutching a pewter wine goblet so hard that Eleanor fancied she could see indentations of fingers in the metal, "we shall do our duty and be roundly hated for it by king and commons alike, while the king's friends garner praise and power for tasks they have not done. Forgive me, brother, but I'd sooner drain a cup of rue and wormwood--'twould be no less bitter, and I would not have to keep quaffing it day after day."

"We are not hirelings," Thomas replied sternly. "We do labor for the weal of both the land and our nephew."

"Who hates us," John of Gaunt said, gazing grimly into his trencher of whitefish stew. "Judas despised by the hosts of heaven is not so loathed as we."

"That is but the evil influence of his false friends." For a moment, Eleanor thought that Thomas sounded less certain. "Grant the king time, and he will outgrow them."

"Or else they will grow in numbers and influence," York said gloomily. "The king was left too long in Bordeaux. Four years doesn't seem overlong, and yet...well, he'd be a fine French king, with his extravagances and his decadent toadies by the hundreds. Regrettably, this is not France."

"Mayhap he'll change, Ned," said Thomas quietly. "I still have hope. He means well, God knows."

And that was the last Eleanor heard of the conversation, for at this point Lizzie, who had evidently been looking for her, caught her eye. "You look weary, my lady," she said firmly. "I think that you should go upstairs and rest. Especially if you want to...labor on your needlework or weaving tomorrow."

Perhaps if Eleanor had understood why her husband and his brothers were so unhappy, she might have fought to remain, but she knew too little to understand. So she gave in gracefully, obediently ate her late supper in her room and slept.

She thought no more of the conversation until, two weeks later in early May, a scarlet hot air balloon landed in a meadow near Pleshey.

***

The pilot of the balloon, which had the name Seintespirit inscribed on the crimson envelope in large white letters, and his passenger were escorted to the tower laboratory by the servants. This was because the passenger insisted on speaking to the Duchess of Gloucester immediately, and the servants knew full well that was where Eleanor was most likely to be.

The pilot was Henry Bolingbroke, and he was looking ridiculously pleased with himself, as if he'd just dared the devil and won. "Hello, Aunt Nell," he said, giving her the most formal of bows. "And Brother Conrad. Did you see us fly in?"

"We did, nephew." Eleanor added some bite to the last word; being the aunt of a boy as old as herself never ceased to make her feel awkward. "But I didn't know that you could fly."

"Neither did I," groaned his passenger, a fair-haired, round-faced boy perhaps a year younger than Henry and Eleanor. "In fact, I'm almost sure that he can't. I believe we are still sailing above the clouds--sailing, men call it, though the air has more bumps in it than the most ill-paved highway--and this beautifully solid stone floor we're standing on is no more than a vision sent by Heaven to comfort me in my last hours."

"It wasn't that bad," Henry said. "I have been taking lessons, you know; Father thinks that someday England will need men who can both sail the skies and do battle in them. And you enjoyed it for a while, Dickon, admit it."

"Well...yes." The fair-haired boy smiled then. "Getting away from guards and strictures and everlasting 'don'ts' was a pleasure."

Eleanor bit her tongue, struggling not to say anything sensible like Half of England must be searching for both of you right now or You couldn't simply bribe a trained aeronaut to sail the balloon here? or the incredibly obvious You both could have been killed! But Henry looked so insanely proud that Eleanor couldn't bring herself to scold him. Especially as that would also involve scolding the king, and she couldn't imagine that scolding a proud and stubborn princeling who already had bouts of distrusting her husband and brothers-in-law could possibly be a wise choice.

So instead she sighed inwardly and curtseyed low. "How may we serve you, my king?"

The two boys--Eleanor was having a hard time thinking of them as anything else, for right now they looked like mischievous children of six or seven rather than nearly grown men of fourteen and fifteen--exchanged glances. Henry was the first to speak. "Truthfully, Aunt Nell, we didn't come to speak to you. Just to Brother Conrad."

"Of course," Eleanor said rather stiffly. "If you'll pardon me--"

"I fear," Brother Conrad said, interrupting her, "that if this involves my skills as a Baconian scientist, then the Duchess of Gloucester must remain. She has been my apprentice these four years, and a skillful one."

Richard looked startled by this, which didn't surprise Eleanor. Henry, she noticed, didn't look startled at all.

"If you say so, good friar," said Richard, sounding as if he would rather argue but had decided that the wiser choice lay in telling Brother Conrad what he wanted before a bevy of anxious guards arrived. "There is a task I would give you, but it must go no further. Neither of you must ever speak of it, even in confession." He gazed at Eleanor very solemnly for a moment. "Or to your husband, Your Grace. Upon pain of death, and worse."

Eleanor sighed. Why is it that everything that happens in this room has to be kept a secret?

Brother Conrad frowned reprovingly at Richard. "Your Majesty is not asking his lordship to take a similar oath?"

"There's no need," Richard said, shaking his head. "Coming here was his idea. You see, there was a council meeting recently."

"That is, a long and dreary session all about treaties and trade," Henry said, grimacing. "And long dull documents that all have to be read and signed and sealed by the king."

Richard nodded. "It's a horror." His voice dropped low. "And it feels like a trap. Or like I'm being sucked into a whirlpool. There are so many facts and figures, and all of them become a hodgepodge in my head until I'm not certain what one has to do with the other. I swear that I did see a treaty at that meeting that asked for permission to export the number seven to Burgundy, or some such rubbish. Anyway, it isn't a king's duty to focus on accounts or taxes or treaties. That's a councilor's job."

"Perhaps," Eleanor said hesitantly, "being a king is like learning how to spin. Or how to fight with a sword. No one starts knowing everything about it. It takes time to gain skill."

Richard sniffed. "My lady, I hardly require instruction in how to become what I already am. And teaching me how to do a councilor's tasks won't aid me in kingship. My uncles only want me to become just like them in every way. There are times I leave the council chamber and almost wonder if my face is still my own, or if I've been transformed into a miniature version of one of them, with a gray beard down to my chest for good measure." He shuddered.

"He told me all this," Henry said, "and then asked if I had any suggestions. And I didn't really know what to recommend." He turned to Richard. "My father will be very cross if he discovers that you're dodging out on meetings of the council, you know."

Richard made an impatient gesture that said Yes, yes, you and I have already talked about this, get on with it.

"I said that what Dickon needed was someone to take his place at council and similar tedious meetings. And he said that this was all very well, but where was he to find such a changeling? Did I know where he could find Queen Mab, perchance? And I said, no, but I did know of a wizard, and so did he, for we both owned samples of his work--"

"Baconian scientist," huffed Brother Conrad. "Only the ignorant call us wizards."

"Well..." Henry squirmed uncomfortably under the monk's irritated gaze. "The thing is, if you could craft a brasshead that looked just like the king, it nearly would be magic."

Brother Conrad scrutinized both of them. "It would be best, perhaps, an you both told me what you want...above and beyond something that looks like the king."

As it turned out, both boys wanted quite a lot. Henry not only wanted a brasshead that looked exactly like the king but one whose expression could change as subtly a human's could and whose eyes would gaze at others in a way that said "living being" and not "moving corpse." Richard insisted on a brasshead that could counterfeit his own signature so skillfully that no one could tell the difference--which, Brother Conrad pointed out, would mean that the creature would have to be able to read as well, and not only recognize certain words, but comprehend what it read as well. Henry added, reluctantly, that the brasshead would have to be able to read, write and speak several languages because the king could do so. Both boys agreed that it needed to know court etiquette and to be able to identify every courier at court and every friend that Richard possessed. And, Brother Conrad added, if they wanted it to do all this, then it would have to be able to learn as a human could, and not merely repeat tasks by rote.

Once the boys had finished compiling their list, the monk fell silent.

"Well?" Richard said, after waiting for Brother Conrad to say something for several minutes. "How long will it take to build this?"

Brother Conrad laughed bitterly. "'How long?' I have no idea. Such a detailed brasshead has never been built. No brasshead has ever had eyes that resemble those of living people, or skin as soft and warm as a human's. And the complexity of the creature's brain--parts would have to be invented for that. And I cannot imagine where I would get the money for all the materials. This far outstrips the expense of a normal brasshead."

"Ask the Duke of Gloucester for more money," Richard replied in a tone that said this should have been incredibly obvious even to an unworldly monk. "He must have limitless coin put by; he never spends any of it on feasts or trappings for his horses or even fine clothes."

Eleanor took a deep breath. "My husband has no such wealth as this, Your Majesty. I am not certain that Caesar Augustus, Prester John and King Solomon together had so much."

Richard looked baffled by this. In his world, insufficient money was something that happened to other people.

"The money problem is a good point," murmured Henry, "as is the complexity of constructing such a device. But there's another question to be asked first: 'Are you capable of building this creature?' And tell me not that you do not know, for never have I met a master of any skill--swordplay, archery, horses or ballooning--who could not tell at a glance if a work was beyond him." A pause. "If you can't do this...well, no word will be spoken of blame. And I am certain that there are other mechanical scientists in the world whose abilities are not so...limited."

Brother Conrad said nothing. But his sudden sharp intake of air told Eleanor that Henry's arrow had hit its target.

"Enough, Henry!" she snapped, trying to sound at least as commanding as her husband, if not Henry's father. "Insulting a man's skills is a poor way to say 'please.' And if you were planning on contacting the Baconians of Paris or Bohemia, I trow that you would have kept your counsel and sent missives there first, rather than stealing a balloon and coming here mere hours ahead of the royal guards."

Henry glared at her impatiently, as if he hadn't expected a response from this quarter. Eleanor had the sensation that she'd interrupted a well-rehearsed play at the climax, and that the chief player had temporarily forgotten his lines.

"We did sent letters there," Richard replied, ignoring the fact that Henry was motioning him to be silent. "Of course, we couldn't go there unescorted--"

Henry rolled his eyes.

"--but we could contact various universities and monasteries to find the best Baconian in Europe. Which took ages. The trouble we went to, to smuggle those letters out with diplomats, monks and merchants..." He shook his head. "And then when we'd finally identified the best one, we discovered that Cunradus Blicchece been in England all along, I knew, of course, that you had crafted my fencing dummies; I'd asked Gloucester when he gave them to me. But I never dreamt you were in his employ." For a moment, his pale blue eyes grew icily chill with suspicion.

This, Eleanor knew was, due to persistent rumors that all Baconians could craft strange devices for warfare out of a handful of nails and two sticks tied together; in fact, use of such a device in battle could get a man excommunicated. But that wasn't nearly the threat it had been before the Dominicans discovered revivification. At least one excommunicant--the third son of the Earl of Salisbury--had died of heart failure and been revivified by the order of the local reeve a few hours later, on suspicion of having poisoned another noble...this one cousin to Richard's grandfather, Edward III. Not only had the earl's son denied any connection with the murdered man, but, once revivified, he also went into vast detail about the joys of the Heaven that excommunication had supposedly banned him from. Eleanor suspected that Salisbury's son had lied through his teeth to discredit the priests, and that, post-resurrection, he did not so much lead an exemplary life as strive mightily not to get caught this time. But many of the simple folk had believed him to be a saint. Many still did.

With one of the strongest weapons in the Church's arsenal crumbling and the threat looming of hideous and impersonal weapons against which sword, lance and arrow were useless, it was not too surprising that rumors abounded about what Baconians could do. Eleanor thought it rather silly that so many people thought that every Baconian scientist could take a handful of cogs and gears and transform them into a clockwork army...but that was people for you. She had, however, expected the king to be marginally less superstitious.

"I am not a hireling," Brother Conrad said with stiff dignity. "The Duke of Gloucester thought, along with his brothers, that my knowledge might aid the English Crown, and, with the permission of the University of Padua, brought me hither. Your father was not pleased. He felt that Baconian science was best not applied to war, and refused to have me near any of the royal residences." He shrugged. "And he died ere he could learn what else I might be good for."

Richard did not answer.

Eleanor cleared her throat. "When do you want this device completed?"

Richard glanced at her in astonishment. So, for that matter, did Brother Conrad. Henry, on the other hand, nodded slightly, as if to say, Yes, 'twould be best to ally his suspicions as best you can.

"Perhaps...three months?" Richard sounded doubtful. "Would that be long enough?"

"A year," said Brother Conrad firmly. "A year, at the very least. Most likely more, as I told you already, Majesty. But let us say a year from now, to start with."

Richard gazed at the flagstones, looking utterly forlorn. "One of my friends told me that Baconian scientists can do anything between one breath and the next."

"Would that it were so, Your Majesty," Brother Conrad said wearily. "Would that it were so."

***

Two things came of this visit. First, a contingent of guards and the captain of the balloon they'd stolen arrived at Pleshey several hours later (while the two young men were eating dinner, in fact) and were hustled off to their respective homes as quickly as possible. Neither would say why they'd come to Pleshey; Henry said that it had all been the king's fancy, while the king refused to say even that much.

Their silence gave rise to appalling rumors that the king had been stolen away by his wicked uncles with the intent of burying him--perhaps quite literally--in the country. Some said young Bolingbroke had helped to lure the king to Pleshey; others that he had stolen the balloon to speed to his friend's rescue a thousand times faster than he could on horseback. Others--though most of these were friends of the king--swore that Bolingbroke had sped after the king, not out of concern, but from a desire to make him look both weak and foolish.

"People will forget this," Thomas told Eleanor in private. "They have short memories."

Eleanor scowled as she stabbed viciously at her needlework. "They may forget the facts, Thomas. Facts are easy to forget. But they'll remember the story."

She particularly hated being sworn to secrecy. She and Brother Conrad could have explained so much if not for that. But she did not dare speak. The king was not, in her view, a bad young man, but he was rather determined to be seen as strong and decisive...like his grandfather. Might he lash out suddenly and regret it just as suddenly only a brief time afterward? Eleanor thought he might. Especially if so urged by the honeyed whisperings of his "friends," who had probably already told Richard that she would betray him. "Weak as a woman's word" was a common proverb, after all.

Eleanor thought that it might be a very good idea to astonish both the king and his sycophants.

Second, her own status changed after the king placed his order for the miraculous brasshead, for the balloon landed on one of the few warm days that May. Most of the spring and all of the summer were extremely wet. As farmers fretted over their crops and feared that there might be a recurrence of the Great Famine that had afflicted Europe for seven long years in their grandsires' time, the damp seeped into Brother Conrad's hands, rendering them stiffer and less able to create the finely detailed designs and materials that were so desperately needed for this assignment.

"I can scarce hold a pen some days," he told her. "And a scientist must be able to handle his tools with a strong and gentle hand, which I think will soon be beyond me as well. You must take up my tasks now." He laughed unsteadily. "His Grace will not long keep me here if I cannot do the work for which I was brought to England. I suspect that soon I will be teaching in Padua again."

"But I don't know enough!" Eleanor protested. "I'll make mistakes."

Brother Conrad pinned her with a javelin gaze. "Yes, you will. Horrible, material-wasting, time-wasting errors that will make you curse yourself. Mistakes that seem at first to be like solutions to the most dire of problems but instead only worsen them. There will be days when you will be convinced that you can do nothing right, and that you should never have become a scientist. And you will be right. And then you will pick yourself up, and go on."

And go on she did, designing hundreds of variations on the king's brasshead, as well as crafting tiny and complex portions of its eyes and brain and trying to invent a coating for the creature that would look and feel like human skin. At first Brother Conrad acted as mentor, but--as he had predicted--Thomas did not keep him long once his health became a problem. And in August, he sailed back to Padua on a Lombard merchant vessel--a pressurized airship with propellers, a rudder and clockwork engines.

This did not please the king, who found the monk's departure far too convenient. Eleanor groaned, sent him a series of placating letters--no, Thomas had not learned of Richard's request from her or from anyone; yes, Brother Conrad truly was afflicted with boneswell, that was not just a story; and yes, of course she would continue to design and craft the brasshead to the best of her ability--and went back to work.

Four years, three children, two executions of members of the king's council, and one peasant revolt later, she finally succeeded.

***

"At least you have finally succeeded," Eleanor's lab assistant said from her perch on a stool near the laboratory window. "The question is whether or not the king will actually want his replica any longer. Things have changed a bit since he first gave you the assignment. For one thing, he's found himself a lover--a madness indiscreet, I'd call it, but let that pass."

"That's no way to talk about Sir Henry Green, Martha," Eleanor muttered, tightening a recalcitrant bolt on Richard's replica with a pair of pliers. "Not even here in the laboratory. It's not safe. He has more influence than anyone on the king's council these days--and his intelligencers are rumored to be everywhere."

Martha addressed her in the most resolutely patient of tones. "As you've installed, throughout the laboratory, devices that record images of light, shape and movement, and as you have built and set in the walls several pocket phonographs that will record the voice of anyone other than you, me and your husband--not to mention the fact that I'm present--I think you have little to worry about. I would notice if there were spies and hired killers present, even if your devices didn't."

Eleanor turned toward her and gave her an impish grin. "Martha, you are a device."

"Please!" huffed Martha. "I am no mere device; devices are but tools. I, my lady, am a gimmor--a much higher ranking." She glanced at the replica. "Whether that will be device or gimmor remains to be seen."

Martha did not look mechanical. She had been one of the early models for the replica--one of the first to have eyes and skin and a tone to her voice that all mimicked humanity beautifully. What she lacked was an ability to change expression. Instead, her face--the round and dimpled face of Richard as he had been at fourteen--was an expressionless mask. The jaw moved, the lips moved...but that was all.

Martha's uncanny face unnerved most of the servants and provoked genuine dislike from Thomas, who insisted that she stay well away from him and the children. It didn't bother Eleanor, who'd seen variants that were far more eerie than mere lack of expression. As far as she was concerned, nothing was quite so disturbing as a mask with a permanent smile.

Now she stepped back and scrutinized the replica. "I hope 'twill be a gimmor. It has cost too much, in time and effort, to be a mere device."

"And is like to cost still more," murmured Martha.

Eleanor shot her a sharp look. "What do you mean?"

"Only that neither the Queen nor the Green--or perhaps I'd best say, neither of the king's queens--"

One word in a warning tone. "Martha..."

"--is likely to thank you for this. I know you don't give a clipped groat for Green's opinion, but I thought you liked Anne."

"Her Majesty," Eleanor corrected. "And I do like her. I can scarce imagine any disliking her. A kinder queen never dwelt in England." She pinched the top of her nose, leaving an oil smudge right between her eyes. Then she glanced at Martha--seemingly a young maidservant clad in watchet blue, her brown hair decorously concealed beneath a barbet and coif, who was sorting gears by sizes--and grimaced. "I'd never want to hurt Anne. But a king's command is just that. I know not why he craves it so; he's eighteen now, not the boy who gave Brother Conrad this assignment. But crave it he does, as if he were drowning in an endless ocean and this"--she tapped the replica's chest--"were air. He'll have his way. And he is already less than pleased that he's had to wait four years instead of one."

Martha nodded. "It might have made things simpler for you if you could have said, and truly, 'Majesty, I will never be able to craft this, nor will any scientist, not though we strive from now until the last trump sounds and all the candles of Heaven are blown out.' It is a pity you are so terrifyingly competent."

Eleanor put the replica aside and pretended to stagger back against her workbench. "Competent? Martha, did I just hear a compliment from thy lips? Beshrew my heart, I never thought to hear such flowery language from thee! Utter another such word and I shall swoon dead away."

Martha sat straight up, then tossed a skein of undyed skinsilk at her.

Laughing, Eleanor caught it and lobbed it right back at her. "Why did I not put courtesy and obedience into that clockwork-and-crystal brain of thine?"

"You did," Martha said in a smug tone. "You also wished me to possess a sense of proportion such as few humans have and the ability not only to calculate, but to reason. 'Tis not my fault that these qualities resulted in a sense of humor." Her voice changed, becoming low and solemn. "I've sometimes wondered of late--as you drew closer to completing my baby brother--why you did not correct my...deficiencies...and remake me into something closer to my intended design."

"Why would I do that?" Eleanor said, frowning. "You aren't what I expected you to be, true. But I like you as you are."

"There are those," Martha said, gazing on the flagstones as she squirmed on her wooden stool, "who would say that a defective machine needs to be repaired, and that a scientist who does not do so is sorely in error."

Eleanor wiped the grease from her hands, then walked over to Martha. "Why are you worried about this?" she asked gently, kneeling beside her. "I've never threatened to harm you. I never would. You're as much my child as Humphrey, Nan and Joan. More so, in some ways."

"Most scientists would not see it as harm, you know," Martha replied, still staring at the flagstones as if they contained all the secrets of the universe. From her tone, Eleanor knew that Martha would be scowling if she could. "I doubt whether Henry Green would. I'd be easier about the king's double--and the king too, come to that--if it weren't for Green, Bushy and Bagot. I like not the thought of giving over the care of either to--"

"--to the king's three continual councilors," Eleanor said patiently, "And little as anyone but the king likes them, we must treat them well or risk his wrath."

"A greedy, power-mad scientist, a corrupt sheriff, and a thieving politician," Martha snapped in disgust. "Any one of them would be dangerous, but together--!" She glanced at the other brasshead. "And I like not the prospect of him spending so much of his time in their company, either. He and I are, after all, constructed to learn. I dread to think what he may learn from them. Or what they may learn from him, an they discover what he is."

That last was Eleanor's greatest worry. None of the "continual councilors" had the scruples of a snake--a hermit dwelling in a cave in the desert knew that much--but Green was fully as skilled a Baconian as she was, if not more so, and she could not imagine a fellow scientist failing to recognize a brasshead when he saw one. She'd placed minute isomorphic locks on the repair doors in the replica's head, arms, torso, back and legs, and hoped that these would keep Green from violating her creation...but she couldn't help but think that if she were the one running into locks that were designed to keep out all but the original builder, then she would design a few new openings all her own.

And the fact that Green was the king's lover as well as his as well as a member of the council only complicated matters, because that meant, automatically, that the replica had to be good enough to fool not only Anne in public--for Richard and Anne were so devoted to each other that Eleanor could not envision Richard willingly putting a brasshead in bed with his beloved wife even as a momentary jest--but good enough to fool Henry Green, should the man proposition the replica.

Which meant that the fabric covering the brasshead's skull not only had to feel like skin, but also had to be as warm as the skin of a living being. The lips not only had to be able to shape sounds properly, but also to kiss. The mouth had to have some level of moisture in it, and yet not so much that it would leak and damage the internal machinery. And the replica had gone through a dozen or so revisions from its original pattern, for the king--even before Henry Green had appeared on the scene, though not long before--had insisted on the replica possessing genitalia. In fact, he'd been quite cross that she automatically hadn't thought of it.

"Your pardon, Your Majesty," she'd said to him on one of her infrequent visits to the palace, as she curtseyed and tried to keep her voice low. "With all the other nuts and bolts holding him together, I thought it unlikely that he'd need a toggle-pin between his legs."

"Well, think about it!" Richard had hissed back, blushing--he'd been no more than fifteen then, and not yet wed to his Anne. "Would you not agree that the lack of a privy member would cause comment and gossip? A king should not be lacking in that respect!"

Foolhardy though it was, Eleanor hadn't been able to keep from laughing. "Well, Your Majesty, he'll not need one for the privy—or privily, either. And I sincerely doubt that if a guard saw your twin, he would attempt to prove your identity by asking your lookalike to remove his hose and smallclothes."

Richard had blushed even more then and had muttered something about how kings should not be portrayed as impotent. Eleanor, realizing that matters were growing politically sensitive, had agreed to his wishes.

And hadn't that been embarrassing! It was bad enough to have to build Richard's member to scale (and thank goodness for tailors and their measurements, as she didn't know how she could have ever looked the king in the eye again if she'd had to take a tape measure to that), but trying to build one that possessed the correct texture, exuded liquid and was fully functional had been well nigh impossible. And then Richard taken up with Green--and possibly John Bushy and William Bagot as well, though that was no more than rumor which Eleanor prayed wasn't true, as that was two complications too many. Richard and Green had sent Eleanor scrambling for books detailing either anatomy or the Greek fashion of loving. And once she'd managed to get the latter clear in her mind, she'd been compelled to build the replica a--well, call it a back passage, for she suspected that Green would notice if his lover's fundament was fundamentally unbreachable.

The replica had cost her boundless time, effort and embarrassment, and she didn't even believe that creating a double for the king was a good idea.

She gazed at the replica sitting on the workbench, then glanced out the window. It was mid-morning, by the sun. She could delay no longer. Sighing, she stood up, walked over to the replica, picked up a quill pen, and began pressing the nib between the second and third toes of each foot, inside its left ear and in its right armpit in a complex nineteen-digit pattern. It would never do to have a single button that turned this brasshead on and off.

It blinked several times, as if waking from a sound sleep. Then it smiled at her and Martha, and spoke in a perfect double of Richard's voice. "Bonjour, Maman. Bonjour, ma soeur."

Eleanor forced herself to smile. "Good morning, Rhisiart," she said, giving the replica the Welsh version of Richard's name. "Do you think you could ride to the palace by nightfall?"

Chapter Text

Bushy, Bagot and their complices, the caterpillars of the commonwealth. -- Richard II, Act II, Scene 3.

Rhisiart had been at the palace for three days before he met his human twin. And that was purely by accident.

He was studying alone in an alcove in the library, trying to puzzle out the history and agendas behind various treaties and trade agreements--a tedious job, in his opinion, but then he had been constructed to think like the king, so his reaction was hardly surprising---when the door opened. Rhisiart looked up from a chronicle about recent French history to see his double, a laughing young man with blond curls, stumble into the room. Fortunately, Rhisiart was out of view of the door, so his double hadn't spotted him yet...but the three men outside the door sounded both drunk and eager for fun, be that wrestling in a library or sporting in one of the palace's bedchambers. While he could evade one man, he wasn't certain he could avoid four.

And there was neither time to panic nor to hide, for the king was already shoving the door shut against his amused fellows.

"No, no," he was chuckling. " Jack, Will, leave me for a moment or two--and let me check that poem you quoted, Henry Green, else we shall be arguing about the words all night. And I will not thus waste joyful hours."

"We could help," retorted one of them--though whether the speaker was Green, Bushy or Bagot, Rhisiart had no idea. He had never heard any of them speak ere this, but the descriptions of the three that Maman had imprinted within his silica-and-clockwork brain had been distinctly unflattering. This man sounded as if he actually enjoyed the king's company.

"Thou wouldst not be of much help to me, Green," the king replied gently, even affectionately. "A distraction, rather, and one I can ill afford in the midst of an argument. Go now, and I shall see you again when it is time to dine."

This did not suit the king's friends well--Rhisiart could tell by the grumbling, which he could hear perfectly--but they went. The king then bolted the door, turned about to scan the shelves...and almost immediately espied Rhisiart standing in the alcove looking at him with considerable curiosity.

He did not expect the king to stare at him, cross himself and then ask, "Are you the Devil?"

Rhisiart shook his head. "No. The Duchess of Gloucester sent me here three days ago."

"The Duchess of--she succeeded?"

Rhisiart didn't think that was worthy of a reply. He was standing right in front of his human counterpart, wasn't he?

"I never thought she would succeed," the king murmured. "Not after so long. Even Henry said it was impossible to craft a machine that looked so...alive. That this could never be done, save in troubadour's songs and grandmothers' tales. The most Bacon e'er did was cause a head made of brass to speak."

"He designed a brass head that could speak," Rhisiart replied, correcting him automatically. Nevertheless, he saw almost as soon as he said it that correcting the king had been a mistake. Richard said nothing--but barely stifled displeasure suffused his face. Clearly he was one of those who had no love for machines that could think...especially those whose knowledge exceeded that of certain humans. He wanted a mechanical placeholder, no more.

In an attempt to gain a clue as to what the king wished him to do first, Rhisiart reviewed his last few statements and almost immediately found something worrisome. "What Henry said that building a gimmor like me was impossible? Bolingbroke?"

It would be logical. After all, Bolingbroke had piloted the balloon the day the king had commanded that he be built. He already knew what the king wanted.

But the king was shaking his head. "Oh, no! I haven't spoken to Bolingbroke about that request for years. No, I...may have mentioned to Sir Henry Green once or twice that possessing a device such as you--"

Gimmor, Rhisiart thought. I'm no unthinking invention, though you may wish I were.

"--would be helpful, even convenient. He's tried to craft a twin of mine for years, but never has he even approached anything like you. I cannot wait to tell him!" The king beamed at Rhisiart for a moment before he apparently remembered that he was smiling at a machine and frowned instead.

"You might not wish to do so," Rhisiart said, picking through his words as if the ground of the conversation was filled with pit traps bristling with pointed stakes. "Yes, I'm sure Henry Green can be trusted...but can you trust anyone who might overhear you telling him? Can you trust them to only think of using me the way that you would?"

The king frowned, and when he spoke, he sounded fretful, as if Rhisiart was spoiling all his fun. "I don't like not telling my friends the truth. It's dishonorable."

"I don't like not keeping secrets," Rhisiart retorted. "Especially when keeping the secret could prevent you or the Duchess of Gloucester from suffering harm."

Which still might happen to Her Grace. Her father had suffered from Edward III's displeasure in the last years of his life--some said that he'd poisoned Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, though it was far likelier that Warwick, who had been on the battlefield before falling ill, had caught a fatal dose of camp fever--and had died rather suddenly after making a will for no good reason. Gossip said that Edward III had had him hanged secretly for murder and treason; it would be all too easy for Edward III's grandson, or those around him, to decide that de Bohun's daughter had built Rhisiart for treacherous reasons. Rhisiart knew that he had no free will as humans understood it...but standing by and letting the king endanger himself or Rhisiart's creator ran counter to the instructions imprinted in his brain.

The king was looking distinctly unhappy. Rhisiart would have sighed if he'd been designed to draw breath. Richard didn't want an opponent--or an ally, for that matter. He wanted a useful tool who would replace him when a replacement was desired and fade into the background when the king wished for nothing of the sort.

All right. He would adapt. He was designed to do so, after all.

"What do you wish of me, Your Majesty?" he said in so humble and obedient a tone that Richard looked at him with sharp suspicion, as if such submission was--had to be--a vile trick.

The order, once given, was unexpected. "I wish for you to open yourself up. Show me that you're a man of clockwork and not of flesh or of hellfire. For never have I seen any clockwork man who looks so human as you. It is easier to believe you to be a secret twin, an illusion spawned of night air, or a sorcerer's demon sent to tempt me than it is to credit that you are mere machinery."

Removing his doublet and his shirt, Rhisiart stripped to the waist and lightly touched the hidden buttons on his chest that only he and Maman could unlock.

The doors in his torso sprang open, revealing an intricate interweaving of gleaming gears, cams, cogs, springs, nuts and silica.

"Such as I am made of, " he said quietly, "such I am. Are you satisfied, Your Majesty?"

The king blinked at his tone, and a moment later Rhisiart realized why. Though he'd spoken in a low and courteous voice, though he'd used the correct title...he had still spoken to Richard as one prince to another.

There was little he could do about this, however. He was, after all, designed to be the king when the king wasn't around.

So he did not apologize to Richard, or excuse himself, or explain. Richard knew what he'd asked for, after all.

And after an infinitesimal pause so small that a human wouldn't have noticed it, the king said, "Yes. I'm satisfied." He gestured at Rhisiart's torso. "Close yourself. Please." A shudder, not quite suppressed.

Rhisiart privately thanked his creator that he was a brasshead and therefore couldn't be hurt by such a reaction. "Will there be anything else?"

"Yes. Stop behaving like a mirror of me." The king glared at him in a manner that Rhisiart thought was intended to be intimidating. "It is like seeing my own ghost moving and talking. It's...disturbing."

Rhisiart could have protested that he was as he had been created to be, but that seemed pointless. And, in any case, he was adaptable. He could change enough to calm the fears of the king and still blend in seamlessly.

"Yes, Your Majesty. I believe I can do that."

***

Ultimately, trying to adapt wasn't what betrayed him. Trying to be too much like the king did.

As the months passed, Rhisiart took the king's place at council meetings about half the time and socialized with his friends the other half--chiefly because it would look odd if he did not. And, reluctantly, he had to admit that he could see why Richard liked Bushy, Bagot and Green. The king was bookish but not shrewd, and he was surrounded by uncles who were very bright even for Plantagenets and who had more than a century of political experience between them. They were extremely capable men who had been helping to run the country for decades...and they had no idea that their very competence terrified their nephew who, when he was around them, felt he was eleven going on ten.

It might have been better if Gloucester, York and Gaunt had been kindly but incompetent, Rhisiart thought. Oh, it would have been bad for the country, certainly. But the king would have summoned his own strength to guide his people, and he would still have a loving if impractical family to rely on. Instead, Richard's uncles were good, decent, skillful politicians who had kept the country running smoothly for nigh on ten years...with very little help from Richard.

They made Richard feel unnecessary. And Rhisiart knew that his twin hated them for that.

Henry Green, John Bushy and William Bagot were anything but skillful politicians and they certainly weren't good. They were selfish, greedy, and ambitious beyond the dreams of fallen angels. And they possessed all the compassion of a pack of jackals.

And that, Rhisiart had to admit, was part of what made them fascinating. They were, simply and unabashedly, themselves, which lent them a peculiar charm. Moreover, they genuinely seemed to like the king--not that this stopped any of them from trying to acquire as much land and wealth and power as they could.

The king didn't appear to mind that. In fact, he seemed to approve of their honesty. This puzzled Rhisiart for a time until he deduced that the king believed that everyone was seeking to gouge wealth and power from him...no matter how virtuous they appeared. Then it began to make sense. If you believed that every man and all but one woman were trying to use you, you might actually appreciate who made no bones about doing so. And you would know that they weren't hypocrites or liars.

It was a very odd way of thinking, and--as nearly as Rhisiart could define the word--unpleasant. Trying to think this way gave him the sensation of two ungreased gears rubbing together.

It also put him in a difficult position. For even though the king was the one who had commanded him into existence, the fact that the wife of the Duke of Gloucester had created a perfect double who could take the king's place at any time made the king sorely uneasy.

"Why did she make you?" Richard had asked him over and over again "Did the duke command it?"

"No," Rhisiart had replied on a hundred different occasions. "You did, my liege. Don't you remember?"

"Yes, of course I did!" Richard snapped. "But--"

But I wasn't supposed to be this good, Rhisiart thought. I was a sort of fantasy you had--a lovely dream about how wonderful it would be to have someone or something taking care of the reigning while you had fun. Having something take your place in your life and on your throne and not being a pin different from you in looks or behavior isn't what you had in mind. I think that you'd much rather that I tried to be like you and failed miserably. I'd only be a joke then. You wouldn't have to look at a face exactly like your own and wonder when I would take your place permanently.

He'd suggested--more than once--that the king send him home to Pleshey--or even to another of the king's castles. In vain. The king had merely muttered something about keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

A wise decision, my liege. Now if only you could tell who your enemies truly are.

It was through Anne of Bohemia, his--well, sister-in-law seemed to be the best term--that he learned of the king's extreme distrust of Gloucester. On the king's orders, he had shunned Anne as best he could, but when he met her by chance in a hallway near a door leading to the gardens, he realized immediately that this was one situation in which he could not obey the king unless he hurt the person that the king loved best.

Not knowing what else to do, he had asked Anne out into the garden. From the way her face lit up, this was obviously a good choice.

They had spoken lightly of things of no importance--at least, she had, and he'd tried to answer plausibly. Oddly, the more serious he became, the more she laughed. He was fairly certain that this was not how it normally went with humans.

But then, as he was puzzling over this, Anne turned to him. "Richard, I received an invitation to Pleshey today."

This was a surprise, as Rhisiart knew that the Duke of Gloucester would be in London for some time. "From the Duke?" he asked uncertainly.

A frown at this. "No. From your Aunt Nell."

Not my aunt. My mother.

He did not, of course, say that out loud. Instead, he asked, "Do you want to go?"

Anne nodded. "Very much. Though...I know you are not pleased with Thomas of Woodstock at the moment."

Rhisiart, feeling as if his brain were seizing up from overheating, rubbed his temples. He had heard something about this from Richard's friends, though he didn't understand it and didn't pretend to. Much of it had to do with Thomas being too plain-spoken, too practical and too austere to be real. He was the least flattering of Richard's uncles, and the one most likely to call him to account when he made poor decisions, but this was hardly proof of unreality. Human logic, Rhisiart decided, is very strange.

He did know that Richard would not be pleased by his granting Anne permission to visit with the wife of the man Richard trusted least in the world. For that matter, Richard wouldn't be pleased that Rhisiart had spoken to Anne at all. Refusing permission would be the most rational thing to do, and the most likely to please the king.

Rhisiart opened his mouth to do just that...and suffered a glitch in his programming. Or perhaps it was his programming, since he had noted in the past that Richard, who found stubbornness fairly easy, melted in the presence of his brown-haired, brown-eyed queen.

"Of course you must go," he said gently. "I would not wish to separate you from a close friend. Friends are important. But...the palace will be darker for your not being here. You will be missed."

"You could come and visit as well."

Rhisiart tried to formulate a plan that would allow him to slip away from the palace and end up in Pleshey as if by accident. He couldn't do it. "I don't think that will be possible," he said with very real regret. "But...I might send a letter to the Duchess with you. It has been a long time since we have spoken"--since the day I was born, in fact. "I would not wish us to be strangers. As you say, she is my aunt. My troubles with my uncles have naught to do with her."

He did not expect Anne to kiss him soundly for this, or to break away from him with a merry but bewildered expression. "Why, you kiss as if you'd never kissed anyone before!"

He hadn't. But there was no way to tell her this without making the king sound like an idiot, a liar or both. "Perhaps," he said in a slightly hesitant voice, "I simply need more practice."

He didn't expect to end up in bed.

He didn't expect friction--which was rather bad, at least for brassheads--to cause a human such pleasure.

And he certainly didn't expect Anne to be quite so...inventive.

He was convinced that the king would order him taken apart and melted down into slag after that. But seemingly the king never heard about that particular night, for the only thing that he complained of was Anne going off to Woodstock.

"I told you to stay away from her, and instead you give her permission to go to the house of mine enemies? What manner of monster are you?"

"She took me for you," Rhisiart retorted. "Should I have shunned her and treated her like the dust beneath my feet, mayhap?"

"No! Of course not!"

"Then," Rhisiart said, his eyes of crystal and mirrors meeting the king's organic ones, "why are you angry, when all I did was speak her fair and try to make her happy?"

The king had scowled, but he'd dropped the subject. And Rhisiart had tried to convince himself that there was nothing to be concerned about. After all, he'd behaved as he was designed to. As the king himself would have behaved.

He'd managed to send off a letter, at any rate, and had received a missive back that had sounded poorly written, absymally dull and in no way like a code. Typical of his creator to craft a code that wasn't so much fiendishly challenging (which would have attracted the attention of any efficient intelligencer) as it was ordinary and unnoticeable.

So now he had a way of communicating with the world outside the royal court. And everyone at the court—except for Richard, of course—had accepted him in his role of king. And, despite Richard's distrust of brassheads that could play the part of humans convincingly, all seemed to be going smoothly.

Then the king began to be absent for longer and longer periods. Rhisiart thought little of this; it was hardly the first time that the king had played the truant. Perhaps he had found a pastime or a mistress that was distracting him from court life. If it also proved to be a distraction from distrust and suspicion, so much the better.

One warm night in June, two and a half years after his own creation and six months after the king had begun sporting elsewhere, Rhisiart learned how wrong he was.

***

He was in bed that night with Henry Green, chiefly because Green seemed to expect it and the true king wouldn't refuse. Bagot and Bushy were infrequent visitors to the king's (and therefore to Rhisiart's) bed; Green, however, was a regular. Rhisiart did his best to accommodate the three, singly and in groups, though it did seem like a lot of sucking, rubbing and prodding for an extraordinarily messy result.

Green, who was murmuring unintelligible syllables, was pressed against him naked and, according to the receptors in Rhisiart's skin, damp and sweaty. His hands were everywhere—stroking, pinching and caressing.

Rhisiart responded enthusiastically...while mentally calculating that it would take approximately 6.174 minutes before Green came and 31.025 minutes before Green rolled over and went to sleep. He knew Green by now. Green was as predictable as Rhisiart's own clockwork.

So he was not expecting it when Green's hands stilled on his chest for a moment, then covered Rhisiart's hands with his own and swiftly guided them over certain points, pausing only to press one finger against each point before moving on.

Before Rhisiart could shout, "Stop!," his chest sprang open.

Green gazed at the clockwork and silica with the smile of a madman who was dreaming. "Ohhhhh. Beautiful. You truly are a work of art...even if you can't appreciate my touch as a human would."

Rhisiart was in no mood for bletherings. "What are you going to do with me?" he asked, proud that he'd said "with" and not "to." And then a second question. "And how did you know how to open me up?"

Green gave Rhisiart his best and most enthusiastic smile. "Oh, it's amazing what people can remember when they need to and they're given sufficient encouragement."

"Richard," Rhisiart said, feeling as disoriented as if he'd tried to calculate the square root of negative one.

If possible, the smile grew a little broader. "Of course."

"You killed the king?"

Green tut-tutted over this. "I thought that machine logic was supposed to be better than this. I wouldn't dream of spilling royal blood. There's a curse on such a thing, and I have no desire to lead an accursed life. No, he's very much alive...though he wishes with all his heart that he wasn't. He finds where he's staying to be a bit onerous. I have, of course, explained to him that I really cannot do without his company for one minute, even though I know that the food served where he is staying is not truly to his taste--"

"You're starving him."

Green narrowed his eyes. "You were made too like him. You belabor the obvious. How disappointing."

"I presume," Rhisiart said, as a malfunctioning phonogram in his speech box caused his voice to tremble, "that you're going to erase my programming."

"Of course not!" Green said, horrified. "Destroying a masterpiece like yourself would be criminal. The very angels would weep over such an offense."

"And yet you do not think that the angels will weep over the king?"

Green shrugged, indifferent, then—reluctantly--closed Rhisiart's torso. "I doubt it. There are plenty of humans in the world. They are expendable and easily replaced. You, on the other hand, are unique."

It was probably a stupid question, but Rhisiart couldn't refrain asking it. "How long have you known?"

"Not long," Green replied, scrutinizing his face. "Oh, I knew that Richard had a double from the first moment that you and I bedded. You lack his enthusiasm for sex, despite being willing enough, in your indifferent way. And you don't smell like him. But that you were a brasshead...no, that's quite recent information. Richard was most reluctant to part with that secret." He smiled, or at least bared his teeth. "A limbeck of siren's tears persuaded him."

"There are no sirens--"

"Such literalism does not become you. Next you will tell me the plant called Old Man's Trousers is not made of linen and wooden buttons."

"There is no such plant as siren's tears, either."

Green sighed. "Siren's tears is a mixture of distillations from various blossoms, herbs, lichen and roots—and I hope you won't expect me to burble the recipe into your auditory receptors. I recalled a legend that said that that the song of sirens could drive a man to madness, but the touch of one of their tears could dissolve his will. Once I heard that story, I had to see if it was possible."

Yes. Rhisiart was sure that was the case. Baconians and revivifiers alike were exemplified by the motto "Run and find out," and being told that something was impossible merely spurred them on. "So the king is...unavailable."

"Not at all," Green replied easily. "Richard of Bordeaux is unavailable until further notice, yes. But I'm in bed with the king."

Realization crashed in on Rhisiart then, and he wondered how he'd missed it. "No!"

"I don't see how you can avoid it," Green murmured. "After all, you've been the king—off and on—for nigh on three years. And you can hardly tell anyone that you aren't. Most would assume that you were a tool in a plot by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester to take over the country. They would certainly be executed for treason. There might even be a civil war. And I believe brassheads are constructed to be unable to kill humans."

Rhisiart began mentally chanting the chemical formula for rust—his version of swearing. For Green was right. After a few early accidents with brassheads, Baconians had decided that the wisest solution was simply to build their brains in such a way to make voluntarily killing a human impossible. For Rhisiart, built by a woman who knew the importance of court etiquette, even harming humans emotionally was difficult. The notion of being the cause of wholesale destruction was odious.

And yet the alternative was helping Green cover up the imprisonment and probable murder of Richard. Which would also lead to harming humans. Fewer humans, perhaps, but humans would still suffer. He could not choose between harming many humans and harming few humans; neither was an adequate solution.

"I can't," he said, straining to break free of Green's hold without causing damage to the man. "It is. Not. Possible."

Green sighed, looking regretful. "Truly? I was hoping that you would be able to choose between the two—after all, one does cause less damage than the other—but if you can't, you can't. I suppose I'll have to try something else." He studied Rhisiart for a moment. "I think that you should stop struggling , incidentally. You might cause me harm."

"I'm trying not to."

"But that doesn't matter," Green retorted. "It doesn't matter to your kind if you cause accidental harm or deliberate—you find causing an injury at all to be untenable. And you're heavier, and stronger than I am—not to mention having metal bones. You could hurt me easily." He smiled, looking rather like a snake hunting a baby bird. "And the magnitude of the harm doesn't matter, does it? It's all unbearable for brassheads. Now, I wonder how you'd react if I was to suffer some kind of damage, hmmm?" And with that, he struck Rhisiart full in the face hard enough to momentarily jar his jaw out of kilter.

"Look at that," Green said, holding up his bruised knuckles before Rhisiart's eyes. "You've injured me. You've injured me just by existing."

Of course Rhisiart knew it was nonsense—Green had injured himself quite deliberately—but his construction and his programming were too strong. For a fatal fraction of a second, his complex brain, confronted with disobedience to the most fundamental of programs, froze.

And in that instant, Green used Rhisiart's hands once more to open his torso, reached under the table beside the bed, and retrieved a snap-on circuit interrupter. A standard tool for any Baconian—it was necessarily to interrupt the flow of controlled lightning sometimes, even in brassheads—but Rhisiart had never imagined that something like could be used for anything but repair or routine maintenance.

Before Rhisiart could cry out, Green had clipped the circuit interrupter onto a small power generator in his chest.

"This will turn you off in twenty-five seconds," he said calmly. "I would prefer not to have to do this, but since you are so hampered by your programming, I must modify it. I imagine you'll be quite different when I turn you on again. The good thing is that you won't know it. And I'll see if I can do something about your reluctance to bed people while I'm at it. Won't that be nice?"

Rhisiart struggled to speak. Protest. Scream. Anything.

But before he could unlock the padlocks on his lips, his generator stopped.

And back where Rhisiart had been, Henry Green, humming happily, got off the bed, fetched his tool box from a dark corner of the room, and began making a few delicate adjustments to the clockwork in Rhisiart's brain.

Chapter Text

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse. -- Macbeth, Act III, Scene 2.

"You're certain that now it's under your control, and not the Duchess's?" William Bagot asked several days later in the private room of a pub neither cheap enough nor close enough to the palace to attract the attention of the royal guards. His thin face—that of a worried ape--was a mask of unease. "You're certain, Henry?"

"Have you no confidence in my abilities, Will?" Green replied, taking a large swig of barely adequate ale. "I'm no hapless wench who was taught by a renegade monk. I was trained for this. I've learned from the prognosticators and the revivifiers since I was old enough to toddle. My father had hopes of my gaining a mitre at the very least."

"That 'hapless wench' created a work of genius," Jack Bushy retorted. His face and voice were both forgettable, as if Nature had shrouded him with invisibility since birth. Perhaps to make up for this, he observed others with accuracy as sharp and deadly as a stiletto. "She crafted a brasshead capable of making decisions without hourly—or even daily—guidance from her. And it operated on its own for nigh unto three years. There are humans who haven't so much free will. Some on the Council that would say that such a machine was perilously close to being alive."

"Some of the king's council do already know of it," Green said calmly, running square-tipped fingers through his dark hair. "The fable that the brasshead told about being built by the Duchess is surely a lie. Oh, I don't say that a woman couldn't craft a brasshead; there have been some scholar-nuns with skills in that direction. But something like this built by a lass of nineteen? I can't credit that. I think it much likelier that the Duke hired a Baconian—or mayhap a team of them—who built the thing and programmed it to believe that it had been built by the Duchess. What answers could she give, if questioned? None. So they would be safe. Not to mention that there are a fair number of men who'd not believe that such a thing could be treason if a fair maid did it."

"I doubt that she's a maid, however fair," said Bushy. "Four children—and another on the way—don't argue virginity."

"I thought 'twas three," Bagot said, frowning.

"She had a fourth last March. A girl. Isabelle." Bushy shrugged at their startled expressions. "I think it best to be aware of what goes on at Pleshey. Even if the answer is 'Nothing much.'"

"And has anyone ever seen her crafting anything, Jack?" Green asked in a deceptively gentle tone. "Oh, I don't doubt that she took lessons from the Baconian her husband hired. But I suspect that she learned naught of Baconian science and everything about biology."

"And mayhap something about aphrodisiacs," snickered Bagot.

"In any case," Green continued smoothly, just as if Bagot hadn't spoken, "a mother of four--and soon to be five—children, not to mention a woman noted for her needlework and her charity, surely has enough to occupy herself without playing at science."

Bushy still looked dubious, but he dropped the argument. "So you've arranged for the king to be more amenable to our wishes," he said. "Well, that's helpful. But if the Duke of Gloucester knows about the brasshead--"

"No 'if' about it."

"Then he'll catch on quickly. He's not a stupid man by any means, and he'll not wink at this. You know his reputation. He can't be bribed. And that'll cause trouble."

Green flapped a dismissive hand at this. "His brothers are more contentious by far."

"Granted," Bushy said grimly, "But it's Gloucester that Lancaster and York listen to. York's a storm at sea in one person, and John of Gaunt...well, he's grown sterner and more bitter since his house was burned to the ground during Wat Tyler's Rising. Gloucester's the one who advises them. He's their peacemaker when they quarrel. And the commons trust him as if he was one of their own. There's not a hope in Hell that anyone would believe him to be an embezzler or a traitorous rebel. And how else could we get rid of him?"

Green smiled. "That is easy. Follow me."

After paying the innkeeper enough silver to buy his silence but not enough to guarantee that he'd boast of his good luck, Green rode with his friends to a small manor some distance away. Dawn was approaching when they arrived.

Bushy frowned. "What sort of secret can you be keeping here? And how is it that the servants don't know?"

"You'll see," Green said, unable to keep a fraction of smugness from his voice. "On both accounts."

Once they'd stabled, rubbed down and fed their mounts—for no stableboys were around, and no decent horseman would simply abandon his steed to suffer overheat, hunger, thirst and resultant illness—Green led them to a side door nearly the laundry and unlocked it.

"A lovely manor," Bagot sniped at him. "Is there some reason we're entering by the same route that your washerwomen would use?"

"It's closer to our ultimate destination," Green said, removing from his belt a large, hand-held torch that ran on canned lightning. Pushing a button, he activated it.

"I thought that it might have something to do with attracting less attention from the servants," Bushy suggested.

"The servants notice nothing unless I command them to. And there's rarely reason for me to give such a command." Green motioned to the others. "Let me show you."

He led them from the laundry area down several halls to the doorway of the kitchen, where a handful of servants were preparing a very small meal—a meal for one person--in absolute silence. The air was redolent with the smell of wild duck, spiced and roasting on a spit, onion soup simmering, pike boiling in diluted ale, a sauce of white wine, cinnamon, pepper and onion cooking slowly over the fire, and wheaten pandemain baking in one of the ovens. The scent could have tempted a saint away from his prayers.

But Bagot and Bushy took no notice, though the smell was making their mouths water. They had eyes only for the servants—tall spindly sexless creatures with skeletal arms and legs of bronze, copper and brass, long, skull-like faces, three eyes (two in front and one in back) and no mouths.

"Gramercy," muttered Bagot. "Where did you get those monsters?"

"I built them," Green said with some asperity. "I grant you that they are not as artistic as Gloucester's creation, but they are, I fancy, more original."

"I see that you need not worry about the servants talking," Bushy said, staring very hard at the brassheads. "Yet even deaf beggars do find ways of making their wants known. Are you sure that these have not found such a way?'

Green sighed. "They have no minds, only instructions to perform certain tasks. You might as well ask if a table has begun walking of its own will, or if a chair has begun to pray."

Bagot was shivering. "They look...wrong. Like moving corpses made of metal."

Green gazed at him in puzzlement. "They look fine to me."

"Who are they cooking for?" Bushy asked, crossing his arms over his doublet. "Whoever it is, he eats well."

"Yes." Green gave him a thin smile. "They've been instructed about that. Would you like to see him? Just see him, mind, not talk to him."

Bushy nodded immediately. Bagot hesitated, then did so as well.

Green led them away from the kitchen to a door halfway up a tower. This led to an anteroom with one entire wall made of glass, showing a windowless cell with one flickering lamp of canned lightning set in the ceiling. There was one pallet with a psalter lying on it, a privy hole, a cross engraved into the wall and very little else. The walls had been painted a bright yellow, while the flagstones were a brilliant orange.

"A colorful dungeon," commented Bagot. "I can honestly say I've never seen the like of that."

"The colors catch the light," Green explained. "And they unnerve him--I know not why, but they do. You'll notice that he's staring directly at the one thing in the room that isn't bright and shiny." And he pointed to the naked young man—clearly a monk, for his head was tonsured--kneeling before the cross, apparently rapt in prayer.

"Why is he naked?" Bushy asked. "It isn't cold, so it can't be a form of torture."

"It embarrasses him," Green explained. "It's harder for him to be well-fed and kept naked than it would be to be starved and kept in rags. In the latter case, he could consider himself a martyr. In the former, he can only wonder why I want him in this state...which, believe me, torments him more than I ever could.

"I need to go talk to him. Stay here behind the mirror and watch. You may find it...entertaining." And, leaving his friends, Green unlocked and then entered the cell.

The monk did not even turn around.

"Leave off praying, Mafeo," Green said gently. "You can speak to Jesus at your leisure. I haven't spoken to you for several days and I'm quite longing to hear your voice again."

"Fra Mafeo."

"Now, now. We've been through that. Here in this place you're simply Mafeo of Venice. And you know what I want."

The young monk remained on his knees but half-turned away from the cross, so that he was gazing up at Green. His dark brown eyes were brilliant with fear. "I've told you. I can't. It's a sin."

"Then do penance for it," Green said with a shrug. "I'll even provide you with a confessor once it's done. I'm not an unreasonable man. But you are a gifted Baconian. You have certain skills in crafting alchemic potions , as well as unmatched knowledge of vegetable alkaloids. And I mean to have both abilities at my disposal."

"You are asking me," Mafeo said, clenching his fists and nearly shattering the wooden rosary in his left hand, "to poison half the nobles of the land and to kill the king's three uncles. To murder innocent people."

"No," said Green, leaning against the yellow stone wall and smiling down on Mafeo benevolently. "I am asking you to choose between murder and suicide. Since one is an unforgivable sin and would surely condemn your soul to everlasting damnation, I would think that the choice would be easy. "

Mafeo stood up and raised his fist. "I will never kill myself, no matter what you do to me!"

Green shook his head reprovingly. "Now I've told you not to do that." He opened the purse hanging from his belt, retrieved a red box and turned something on it.

Mafeo shrieked, convulsed and fell to the floor, shaking and clawing at his eyes.

Green sighed, put the box back in his purse and waited for Mafeo's convulsions to be over. When at last they ended, he spoke in the same patient, reasonable tone as before. "I've told you not to threaten me. I really don't like hurting you, you know."

"You do it often enough." The words were whispered and barely intelligible, for Mafeo's face was still pressed against the floor. "You will kill me that way eventually."

"How?" Green asked in bewilderment. "I've not made you ill. I've not broken any of your bones. I'm simply tricking your brain into thinking you're in agony....thanks to a small device implanted in your scalp. No harm's being done."

Mafeo looked up then, his expression one of utter disbelief. "This is not harm?"

"Of course not."

"And if I die of it, then you will consider that suicide?"

"You can't die of it," Green said impatiently. "Don't you think I tested the device before implanting it in you? When I speak of suicide, I speak of something you'd have to choose. Or rather, not choose. I'm afraid you're hurtling headlong toward that by refusing to do what I ask. Because if you don't agree...well. I'll have to implant the drive to do just that."

He gazed sadly at the young man. "And that would be...unpleasant for you. Tampering with the mind generally involves tampering with the memory. Memories are where humans live. Implanting the desire, even the need, to poison those men would be easy enough. Of course, I'd have to erase your faith, your ethics, your emotions, your belief that other people are human, even your awareness of your own existence." A pause. "Your soul, if you will."

Mafeo's eyes widened. "You could not—"

"Of course I could!" Green said, insulted. "I have."

"You've done this?"

"Oh, yes. Several times. That's how I know how it works." He studied the boy for a few minutes. "You'd effectively be a brasshead, though one with a human body. You'd keep your knowledge of potions and poisons—that's useful—but you wouldn't be aware that you knew such things. You would not be aware that you existed. You would function solely to obey my orders...whatever I required." His eyes raked the young man's body appreciatively before he spoke once more. "And if I ordered you to curse God, blaspheme against the Holy Ghost and kill yourself by setting yourself on fire, you would do it. With a smile, if I demanded it."

Mafeo curled in on himself—as if he were a hedgehog being threatened by a predator, Green thought. "Are you the Devil?"

"Only to my enemies. I'm a seraph to my friends. And I am, after all, giving you a choice. Sin, and redeem your soul afterward. Or lose your soul entirely. " He spread his hands wide. "It is, after all, your choice.

"And I'm afraid," he added as he rubbed his chin, "that I really must insist on a decision right now. I've enjoyed your company for some time. I've enjoyed trying to persuade you gently. But time runs ever through the hourglass, and I fear that our time together is at an end.

"Which will it be, Mafeo? Obedience...or erasure?" He favored the young monk with a tender, understanding smile. "Choose fast."

***

"Captured?" The brasshead glared at Green—seated near the window in the palace library--with extreme displeasure. "Who captured Fra Mafeo?"

"Your uncles," Green replied, fighting the impulse to say, 'The king's uncles.' The brasshead wouldn't understand why he was making the distinction; since the operation, it had been convinced that it was Richard of Bordeaux, second of his name, right-born ruler of England. And far more passionate in bed now, which Green could only count as an improvement, since he made the most use of it. Of course, it still behaved as if it were besotted with Anne of Bohemia—Richard had been, and still was, so mad about the woman that there had been no hope of having the brasshead grow indifferent to her over a matter of months or even years—but Green flattered himself that at least he'd ensured that it listened to him, Bagot and Bushy almost exclusively, and listened to Richard's uncles not at all.

"How?" The brasshead was angry—or, Green corrected himself, the brasshead believed that it should behave as if it were angry. "I know that none of your servants talked, Green."

"I don't know." And God's blood, how that galled! "I think that one of them—York, perhaps--was expecting trouble and sent some spies abroad in the land to find out what was wrong. I doubt if York thought to find a poisoner hired by the king for a royal feast, but..." He shrugged.

The brasshead scowled. "It would have worked, too."

"Yes," said Bushy, "but it didn't. Can we focus on what to do now that we are all well and truly in the soup?"

"We aren't," Bagot pointed out. "Not even you, Green. It's the king who gave the command to hire Brother Mafeo. Nobles have rebelled for less."

"Not his uncles, Will. Not those men, full of pride and probity."

"More righteous men than they have rebelled in the past," Bagot said, sounding even more fretful than usual. "And some the commons still do deem both heroes and holy men. Simon de Montfort is still regarded as a saint in Evesham, an you remember."

"It does not matter." That was Robert Tresilian, the Lord Chief Justice, a clever chap with, in Green's opinion, the face of a very wise sheep. No great friend of theirs nor yet of the supposed king's, but useful in that he knew what side his bread was buttered on. "Those who undermine the state, be they princes, peers or paupers, commit capital treason."

"Then attaint them, arrest them, and condemn them," said the brasshead. "See that it is done, Tresilian, and right swiftly."

"That would be impolitic," said Tresilian quietly. "We must have better cause, or their supporters will arise in open mutiny. And as Bagot just said, the commons do love them well."

"Yes," said the brasshead, sounding as petulant as Richard himself ever had. "They do champion our cunning uncle of Lancaster, and the falsely compassionate York, and peevish Uncle Gloucester far above our royal self. 'Tis not just!"

"'Tis not so strange that the commons favor the land's rulers above all, Majesty," said Bushy, going over to one of the bookcases, studying all of the books for a moment and then retrieving a single one from the shelf. "You do wear the crown, but your uncles do bear the kingship."

"Ever since I was ten." The brasshead's voice was heavy with dislike. "What is that book you find of such moment during this our meeting?"

"English Chronicles , detailing deeds of your predecessors." He flipped a few pages. "Hmm. It seems that your royal grandfather hanged Roger Mortimer at Tyburn for his treachery in taking the queen as lover and imprisoning and slaying Edward's father-king and his uncle, the Earl of Kent. And he was not yet king when he did this."

"If he could do that, why can't I?" said the brasshead fretfully.

Bushy didn't answer. "Next comes a tale of the Battle of Poitiers, which your father won against great odds."

"Would that I could win against such odds! And what comes after that?"

Bushy squinted at the page. "The day and time that you were born, my king."

For the first time since the operation, the brasshead looked uncertain. "I have a birthday? When is it? I've asked my uncles, but they will not tell me."

"It says here that upon the third of April...er, 1365...was born Lord Richard, son of the Black Prince, at Bordeaux."

"But that's not right!" Bagot whispered to Green. "The king was born two years later—he's a year younger than the Duchess of Gloucester. And he wasn't born in April—he was christened then. He was born in January, on the Feast of the Epiphany. There were jests about his father getting an heir as a gift for Twelfth Night!"

"Will. You. Be. Silent?" Green hissed through gritted teeth. "I want to hear this!"

The brasshead, meanwhile seemed to be struggling with its numbers. "1365? Green...what year is it?"

"'Tis the year of Our Lord, thirteen hundred and eighty-seven."

"But...that means that I am twenty-one. Twenty-two, as of next year!"

"No, it doesn't," Bagot muttered. "'Tis October of 1387 already, and your birthday, which has a different date, has long since passed!"

The brasshead wasn't even listening. "And a man of twenty-two is in no need of Lord Protectors to guide him, is he? I shall reclaim my kingship this very day--"

It was, perhaps, fortuitous that a servant entered at that moment, telling the brasshead that his uncle, York, wished to speak to him.

The timing was too perfect. Green could not have asked for better.

"Yes," said the brasshead. "Send him in."

York entered, knelt and made his plea: that the king attend the Parliament in Westminster called by the Lord Protector and the peers of England.

"Strange that they called a Parliament without my knowledge or wish," the brasshead said. "But no matter. I shall be there straightaway. My friends, attend me!" And with that, the brasshead swept from the room with a grand flourish, followed by Tresilian and Bagot, with Green and Bushy bringing up the rear.

And thus, thought Green as he exited with the others, we do capture this realm without knights or navies, horses or hot-air balloons, men at arms or marks in the treasury. What need have we for such fripperies when we hold the true king's body and the false king's mind?

Chapter Text

Time's glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light. -- The Rape of Lucrece, Lines 990-91.

Three months after the supposed Richard II had claimed his majority ("Truly?" the Duke of Gloucester had murmured. "I had not thought you would be twenty-one for a year, let alone twenty-two") , stripped the Dukes of Lancaster, York and Gloucester of their authority and turned their positions over to his favorites, Anne of Bohemia hied herself to Pleshey—without so much as a lady-in-waiting or an escort to trouble her--to ask Eleanor one vital question: "Nell, why did you build such a thing?"

Eleanor—fresh from her laboratory when the Queen arrived and looking more than a little crumpled and grease-stained—stared at her, bewildered. Pushing her protective goggles up onto her fair head with one be-gloved hand, she answered as best she could. "Build what, Your Majesty?"

Anne sighed. "Not 'Your Majesty.' I come here today not as a queen but as a friend. And I beg you to speak to me—preferably in your laboratory."

"Haven't you heard?" Eleanor said with a flash of spitefulness. "My laboratory does not exist."

"Yes," said Anne. "I had heard that. Doubtless you are wearing a butcher's apron, cambric gloves, safety goggles and grease on your nose as a fashion statement." She gave Eleanor a patient glance. "You didn't have to rush out to meet me in that state, you know."

"To tell you the truth," Eleanor confessed, "I'd all but forgotten what I was wearing. So much has gone wrong of late. I'm trying to fix it."

"I understand," Anne replied, then looked upward. "The laboratory, Nell?"

"I don't know that that would be a good idea—"

"Yes, it would," said a voice so close behind Eleanor that she jumped. "She needs to speak to both of us." And Martha gave Anne a delighted smile. "Besides, I've long since wanted to meet her."

Anne gazed at a dark-haired girl with Richard's eyes and Richard's face as a boy. Eleanor gave Martha a decidedly exasperated look and then sighed.

"Laboratory," she said. "Now."

***

It took less time to explain than Eleanor had expected. Martha's presence lent credence to much of what she was saying.

When she was done, Anne gave her a look that was an odd admixture of anger, hurt and confusion. "You had to know that this was a bad idea."

"Oh, yes," sid Eleanor. "But what would you have had me do? The king commanded it. And no manner of persuasion could make him countermand that order. He would not listen. And—forgive me, Anne—but as the daughter of a man who was slain in secret by a king and on the very weakest of evidence, I dared not disobey."

"Did you really think he would hurt you?"

"He made it clear that he distrusted all delays," Eleanor said with a sigh. "Even those that were caused by lack of materials or expense or the simple fact that none of this had been done before. I feared that he would begin to blame Thomas for all this...and the displeasure of a king can be fatal."

"And all that beside," Martha added, "you wanted to see if you could do it—and you wanted this all the more because the king didn't expect you to succeed."

"Yes," Eleanor admitted. "That, too." She forced herself to look Anne in the eye. "What will you do now?"

Anne's gaze was pure steel. "Your gimmor is running the country now."

"Say rather, Henry Green and his minions are running it," Eleanor snapped. "Never did I give such instructions to Rhisiart as he is giving now. I can only conclude that Green has altered Rhisiart's programming somehow...though in what ways I won't know until I can examine his brain."

"I hardly think that any of that is important when the true king is...missing."

"I doubt if he is dead," said Martha. "It would be practical, yes. But Green loves power too much. To have the power of life and death over a king while secretly ruling the country through his poppet—that'd be a rare snoutful for such as he."

Anne stared at Martha in wonderment. "You truly can think."

"Aye, and mull matters over, and form opinions, and even change my mind," Martha replied. "I was designed to think like a human, and not a machine, after all. And so was my brother."

"I think she's right," Eleanor said. "Richard is likely alive—though not in the best of shape. We need to free him—and we need to free Rhisiart's mind."

"And quickly," said Anne with a sigh, motioning Eleanor to seat herself on the laboratory's workbench. "You are fair buried here in the country; you know not how bad things are growing. Poverty and famine are spreading over the land; in Essex, Surrey, Kent and Middlesex, I have counted over seventeen thousand poor and homeless. Jewels and plate I've sold to buy food and clothing for them, and still their numbers increase each day. And what does your creation do? He gives orders to build a feast-hall for ten thousand! He wastes his substance in purchasing plumed Spanish hats and Polish shoes with pointed toes so long that they must be bound to his knees with pearl-studded chains of gold! And when he travels anywhere, he must have four hundred archers in attendance!"

"Considering the temper of starving people, that last might be wise," Eleanor said, thinking that the queen herself looked ill from worry; she was pale, and her eyes were sunken deep in her face. Then an ugly notion occurred to her, and would not be banished. "Anne? Out of curiosity, how is your own health these days?"

"Poorish," Anne said. "I seem to have no strength. And even when I eat, I'm generally ill afterwards. But that isn't important--"

"Yes," said Eleanor, "I rather think it is. Green has never liked you or your influence on the king—yes, I know the king is not a human at the moment, but he was designed to learn and to adapt. I wonder if Green thinks that you could persuade Rhisiart to disapprove of current policy. If you could, then all of his machinations, including kidnapping the king would be for naught."

"But I can't," Anne replied. "I don't know how! And," she added in a lower voice, " I speak as one who's bedded the creature."

"Really?" Eleanor considered this for a moment before blushing and asking, "Er...how was he?"

"Nell!"

"Could you have kept from asking?"

Anne laughed ruefully. "No, I suppose not. He was...kind. Not at all interested in the proceedings but quite determined that I enjoy myself. There are many mortal men who are not so considerate...and even more who would not assume that a virtuous woman could enjoy being wanton for a change.

"But it was not his style of seduction that told me that this was not Richard. When I began to fall asleep that night, my head on his chest, I heard no heartbeat. And I felt something humming in the chest beneath my fingertips. I could not imagine what this was, but it didn't seem inclined to harm me."

"Unlike Green," Eleanor said grimly. "Who, I think, has found at least one poisoner other than the Franciscan Mafeo."

"You think he would kill me."

"I do."

"But why?"

"Because the commons love you and you could be a rallying point for rebellion," said Martha. "Because your death would remove one more person who could influence the king. Because your death would break Richard's soul in two and make him amenable to almost anything. Because both Richards care for you—and this I know, for was I not an early model of my brother? Because Green hates you. Most of all..because he can."

"You think it likely, then, " Anne said, taking a deep breath, "that the poisoning has already begun."

Martha nodded.

"Anne," Eleanor said, "let me send for a doctor. A gifted one, not affiliated with the palace. I could send for Na Floreta Çanoga of Aragon, if Queen Sibila will spare her. Or Na Bellaire and Na Pla of Lérida--"

"It would take too long to send to Aragon," Anne said with a sigh. "And even supposing that Green has not suborned anyone who dwells so far away, I must still return to the palace where my poisoner dwells. So how can I escape?"

A wicked thought suggested itself to Eleanor then. "Perhaps—in a coffin." Swiftly she explained what she meant.

When she was done, the laboratory rang with Anne's laughter.

***

It was just as well that Eleanor had something to focus on, for all across England, things were growing steadily worse.

At the suggestion of Tresilian (who was, in Green's opinion, a lawyer most excellent at smelling out bases for undreamt-of taxes), the brasshead ordered the land filled with blank charters—a form of tax that compelled any who received one to sign and seal it, agreeing to pay the king what amount the king should request in the future. Given the mounting famine and the king's extravagance, no one believed that these demands would be small...or even reasonable.

And the charters were everywhere. It would have been bad enough if such demands had been made solely of those who possessed some wealth; the demand would have been unjust, but it most likely would not have ruined the rich. But the king's favorites (who had now added a hanger-on called Scroop to their group) felt that any man who owned anything—be it a merchant's shop, a hardscrabble farm, a peddler's cart or one ancient donkey—could and should be given such a charter, as well as any wealthy widow...and was it not fortunate that all widows, according to proverb, were rich? Moreover, any who grumbled at the blank charters,whispered that the king's new councilmen were unjust, sang satirical songs or even whistled a tune that had had unflattering words grafted onto it, were immediately adjudged by the favorites' servants and flatterers to be dangerous and hardened traitors, and were clapped in prison to await hanging.

And if the property of traitors was confiscated by the state, and therefore splashed into the purses of king, councilmen and constables alike—well. Surely that was but a coincidence.

And to top it all off, the brasshead had agreed to divide the realm into four parts, making Green, Bagot, Bushy and the undeserving Scroop wealthy beyond dreams of avarice.

Green knew he should have been satisfied...and yet there were still several distinct problems.

The first was Anne of Bohemia, who was at her manor in Shene, reportedly ill. Of course, this was all to the good...but Green could not help but recall that where sick people were, doctors were likely to follow, and he did not relish the notion that the queen might be given an antidote to the poison he'd so lovingly crafted.

The second problem was John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, who was now the Duke of Hereford. It was, Green admitted, marginally possible that Bolingbroke didn't know what a threat he was—that he hadn't heard the whispers of princes and peasants alike that the royal duke was both canny and honorable. However, for his money, there was no such thing as an unambitious noble...or, for that matter, an unambitious human being. Any man said to lack ambition was clearly a liar, dead or both.

The third was Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester—who, like Anne, was in the country and well-guarded, and who, like Bolingbroke, was too canny and too popular for safety. He had not done much that was threatening, but by staying in his manor far from the palace, he was out of Green's reach. Even worse, the supposed king kept asking for Gloucester, even inviting him back to court without Green's knowledge. The fact that the brasshead had done this, despite the fact it was supposed to be wholly his creature now, was more than a little disturbing.

He had tried several other operations on it to compel it to behave as if it hated Green's enemies, whether they were around or not. None had worked. When his foes were present, the brasshead was fine. When they were not—it could not behave as if it hated them. It didn't seem to know how to sustain such behavior when there was nothing to react to.

An I do nothing, Green thought grimly, the brasshead will summon Gloucester back from the country, beg his pardon—yes, even for attempted murder—and invite him onto the Council again. It may even strip us of our lands and power to do right by Gloucester.

This wasn't to be borne.

All he could do was remind the brasshead over and over that it was angry, even outraged. Indeed, he'd been doing so this past half hour while it lamented that its dear uncle would not return from the country at its request. But he could only delay so long before they had to go meet with the rest of the council,. There was no more time.

He could only hope that what he'd said had taken.

He was almost certain it hadn't.

The conversation in the Great Hall some ten minutes later went even worse than he'd expected.

"Our uncle will not come, then?" the brasshead said in a bewildered voice, just as if it hadn't said this hundred times already.

"That was his answer, flat and resolute," Green replied in a testy voice.

"Was ever subject so audacious?" the brasshead said. The words were right—but the tone was plaintive, like a child who had been hurt but didn't know why.

"Can Your Grace bear these wrongs?" Bagot asked, helpfully feeding the brasshead a line.

I've told thee the answer to this a hundred times, Green thought at the brasshead. Now, answer as I have taught thee, thou thing of no bowels!

"I bear them as a mother bears seeing her child dismembered by conqueror or tyrant," the brasshead said. "I tell you, Bagot, his churlish taunts have left such scars within my heart that the wounds are still filled with gall and festering—and nothing will soothe those scars until I see his blood poured out before mine eyes."

The words would have been more convincing if the brasshead had not followed them with a glance at Green that said more plainly than words, Did I do it right this time?

"Send soldiers to his manor, then, and fetch him here," Green said, ignoring the imploring glance as best he could.

"I dare not," the brasshead replied. "He's too well-loved to be treated thus; the whole realm would rise in rebellion."

Oh, so you have learned that lesson, Green thought bitterly.

Tresilian saved the situation. "I know a trick that would fetch him from his manor at Pleshey without the need for soldiers."

"Tell us what it is, then!" Green commanded. "For without some plan to help us, we're all doomed."

"'Tis simple enow," Tresilian said. "Since the Duke is still in the country, we'll send some friends down to Pleshey today dressed as masquers. And tonight, claiming that some neighbors sent them to cheer him and his family, they will offer to perform and gladden his heart—and who would refuse that? And when the dance and revels are done, and any witnesses gone, they'll cut off the Duke from the rest of the herd, stuff him into a costume that enshrouds him and cover his face with a mask, and steal him from the house."

"What if he cries out?" That was Scroop—who, in Green's opinion, was none too bright.

Tresilian nearly sprained his eyes, he rolled them so hard. "What do you think that masquers' drums are for, Master Scroop? And even if anyone hears cries for help, a masquer may play at any scene—even one of wailing captives."

"And afterwards," Green said, thinking matters out as he spoke, "we'll turn him over to the governor of Calais—he's newly arrived, and he's brought a deal of soldiers with him. We can send Gloucester back to Calais, and there will be no risk; neither the commons nor his brothers will know where he's gone."

And once he was on shipboard...well. There were so many accidents that could befall a man at sea.

No need to say that out loud, of course.

The brasshead nodded. "Yes. I like well that notion, Green. Tonight, you and I will be among the masquers--"

Green just barely kept himself from gasping, "WHAT?" He didn't object to killing...but to be so blatantly involved in a conspiracy to kill one of Edward III's sons and to speak of it so openly very nearly made him ill.

"—while you, my Lord Tresilian, make proclamations against mine uncles York and Lancaster, accusing them of treason...and once the proclamations have been made in public at least once, arrest, imprison and condemn them. And if the commons rebel, I'll—I'll send to the King of France for help, and he can have Guynes and Calais back for his efforts." The brasshead smiled charmingly. "What say you to that?"

It sounded like a disaster in the making to Green. Yet it was his own idea, his and Tresilian's. He had no excuse to refuse.

At least he could ensure that he'd be well paid for this idiocy.

"I think that it sounds most rare, Your Majesty," he said, favoring the brasshead with a bright and meaningless smile. "And now, was there not some talk of dividing the realm?"

Chapter Text

Now shine it like a comet of revenge,
A prophet to the fall of all our foes! -- Henry VI, Part 1, Act III, Scene 2.

 

"I'm glad you came today," Anne said that afternoon when Eleanor arrived at Shene bearing a large rectangular canvas-covered box with her. Eleanor had had to open it wide before the queen's servants would let her bring it in, and only the fact that it was stuffed to the brim with sugared almonds, gingerbread, marchpane, honey wafers, candied orange peel and pynades stuffed with raspberries and blackberries had made the canvas box remotely acceptable.

Anne couldn't blame them. It was a battlefield coffin—lightweight, alchemically waterproofed and easy to transport. And no one wanted to be too close to a coffin, even if it was filled with cakes and comfits.

Which had bought them some privacy. Thank God. She would be glad to escape from this manor and this room. She'd been trapped here for five months. Even scientific miracles, it seemed, took time...although it probably would have been easier if Eleanor hadn't had to take time away from her science to give birth to her daughter Philippa three weeks before.

"I would have been here earlier," Eleanor said, kneeling beside the coffin and unpacking all the food that the servants would believe was cursed and would devour anyway because the country was starving. "But growing your corpse took longer than I expected."

"I was beginning to run out of illnesses that no one wants to get too close to," Anne replied. "I went from lung-flux to smallpox to madness induced by brain fever—that one was easy, I only had to lie in bed and writhe about and mutter about odd things like oysters being infested with demons. I don't know what I would have done at the end of the week if you hadn't arrived. There aren't many people who survive the Black Pest."

"I'm sorry," said Eleanor, looking apologetic. "The tank in which she grew…well, it wasn't hard to build; even Bacon built one, once upon a time. But it took an ocean's worth of power...both to feed her and to maintain her as she grew. Especially as she grew past babyhood. The tank would keep breaking down at the worst times. Well, she's done now." She removed the last few honey cakes, then studied the naked body beneath all the sweetmeats. "What think you? Will she pass muster with those who do know you?"

Anne stared down at what might have been a younger and thinner version of herself. "It's like looking at a somewhat younger ghost. You're sure she can't come back to life?"

"She never lived," Eleanor said patiently. "You can't restore life to something that never had it. But just to be on the safe side, I used light refracted through a ruby to cut into her brain. It took some delicate work, as I had to go in through the nostrils without leaving a single cut on her skin, but of course Martha helped me there. God might be able to wake her now—but no revivifier could."

"I'm glad." Anne gazed down at her twin that had never awoken. "I wouldn't want her to be enslaved by the likes of Green."

"Nor would I," Eleanor said with a heartfelt sigh. "Though if it weren't for the likes of Green, I'd not have minded if someone revivified her."

"If not for Green and his minions," Anne pointed out, "she would not need to exist at all. Now, do you need help getting her up on the bed?"

Eleanor blushed. "I'm afraid so."

"No need to be afraid. The Queen, after all, is dead. I'm simply an ordinary grass widow from Germany whose husband abandoned me for wine, frolics and song. Very commonplace. It happens every day." She picked up her twin's feet, then frowned. "Once we get her upon the bed, I think we should try to find a nightdress for her. It's November, after all, when the damp seeps into your bones."

Eleanor nodded fiercely. "Are you ready?" she asked. "Heave!"

It took five or six "heaves" before the twin was on the bed and at least ten minutes thereafter before she was properly dressed. Then, together, the young women rolled her under the covers.

"What now?" said Anne.

"We ride back to Pleshey," said Eleanor. "I think you would be better off dressed as a footman or a guard."

"You think that I'd make a convincing man?" Anne's lips twitched in amusement.

"I think you'll make a ridiculous one," Eleanor retorted, beginning to repack the coffin. "You're far too short for the average run of men, and it will be hard to conceal your breasts in any case. But I'm hoping that anyone who sees you will only notice the servant's clothing, think, "Oh. Funny-looking young man" and forget about you."

"And what about you?" Anne said, mentally conceding that Eleanor had a point. "I can't think that my doctors will be eager to let you leave after you've been exposed to pestilence."

"I'm not even supposed to be in your room. I'm supposed to be down in the chapel, praying for you. I had to sneak out of there in a hurry because one of your footmen confiscated the box and left it near the kitchen." She glanced ruefully at the figure half-buried beneath the bedcovers. "I don't think that he or the cook would have handled finding her amidst the marchpane very well."

"So you're being pious and sad and offering up your prayers to keep me from dying."

"Well—that's not far off what I did do," Eleanor admitted, closing the box. "If you consider work the same as prayer, that is. Wait here. I have to take the box downstairs."

And she did, eventually depositing it beneath the staircase. "It looks like a place where a servant lad or lass might conceal something," she said after she'd returned upstairs. "Especially a treasure trove of sweets."

"Why," Anne said, "are you so determined to get everything done in such a hurry?"

Eleanor grimaced. "I'm not sure. It's just—it's been too long since the king's minions made an attempt on Thomas's life and liberty. Especially Green. I can't believe he's suddenly turned peaceful and decided that Thomas is no threat to his ambitions. It's not his way."

She glanced uneasily at Anne. "And last night I had a terrible dream. Thomas was riding in the woods when he was surrounded by an angry lion leading a pack of ravening wolves. They were ready to pounce and devour him, but then a flock of foolish sheep raced toward lion and wolves, desperate to save Thomas. And then the lion killed both sheep and Thomas, and roared of his heroic triumph."

Anne heard all this with a sinking heart. "Dreams have been warnings before."

"Thomas," Eleanor said, anguished, "does not believe in dreams."

"Are you armed?"

"With a shortsword beneath my cloak, a dagger strapped to my thigh, and the tools of a good Baconian. And you?"

"I have a dagger at the ready"--Anne touched one hand to her leg—"and bows and quivers a-plenty in the armory. Help me find some clothes that will pass muster, and quickly!" Anne tossed a long loose shirt onto her back and rummaged about for braies and hose. "For the instant I am dressed and armed, we ride for Pleshey."

***

They arrived at Pleshey almost at the same moment as the masquers and soldiers, all visible from a distance, were positioning themselves.

"I should have known better," Eleanor muttered. "All my experimenting and discoveries have done naught but imperil my husband and children."

"They also saved your best friend's life," Anne replied. "If not for you and Martha, I'd not be here tonight; for, forget it not, she diagnosed the nature of the poison I'd been fed and concocted an antidote long before you grew a body to place in the grave Green had opened and left yawning behind me. And belike they saved Richard and the nation two years of torment at Green's hands before your brasshead's mind was stolen and he was forced to be what God—or you—never intended. You've worked wonders, Nell. 'Tis not your fault that my husband trusted—aye, and loved--a fallen angel and his minions."

Eleanor reached for the other woman's hand and squeezed it. "Thank you."

Anne gazed at the masquers. "There's something wrong with the way the masquers look and move. Have you a spyglass with you?"

Eleanor reached for her horse's saddlebags, opened one, felt about inside, then pulled a small spygass from the bag and passed it to Anne.

Anne lifted the spyglass to her eye. "I cannot tell—their faces are all covered with animal masks."

"There's more to the way people look than faces," Eleanor said. "Watch them a bit."

Anne was silent for a while as she stared through the spyglass. Then, "They're nearly all of the same size!" she burst out. "The same height, the same long and spindly limbs, the same way of moving...save for two. Both are tall, but one moves hesitantly, drawing away from the other masquers and then drawing close. And the other is his very shadow, gazing up at him over and over again—and whispering, I'll wager—just an instant before the hesitant one draws near his fellows again."

"Someone," Eleanor murmured, "does not want to be here. And the others?"

"They move like the world's most perfect dancers, each making the same movement or gesture or step with equal grace." Anne removed the spyglass from her eye and turned to Eleanor with a troubled expression. "The sameness of their motion is...disturbing. It's like watching the dead dance. Of course, the masks don't help."

Eleanor went white. "Oh, this is obscene."

"What's wrong?"

"Stiff, immobile faces on bodies that do move perfectly with none of the small clumsinesses most people possess? Does this not remind you of Martha?"

"Brassheads!"

"Yes," Eleanor said steadily. "Brassheads. Probably built by Green himself. I doubt not that he's one of the two not moving properly."

"I don't understand. What's obscene about this? At least he couldn't get human beings to agree to this—"

"A brasshead," Eleanor said, her eyes blazing with the conviction of the true believer, "is not to be used to harm a human being in any way. It's a standard part of their programming, and has been, by custom and law, since the time of Bacon's students. And yet these brassheads have come to Pleshey to do harm—to kill or to turn my husband over to the soldiers to be killed, I know not which. This shouldn't be possible." Her voice reverberated with horror, as if she had seen a man clubbing his wife to death using a screaming baby.

Anne gaped in the direction of the masquers...and then closed her eyes. "I know who the hesitant one is," she said softly. "Your Rhisiart. Or whatever remains of the brasshead who once bore that name."

There was a shocked silence.

"Yes," Eleanor said at last. "Green would have brought him. For a thousand devilish reasons, he would have." She turned to Anne. "We have to save him, as well as Thomas and the children."

At that moment, the drawbridge to Pleshey was let down and the masquers strolled inside.

"Calm yourself," Anne whispered to Eleanor. "Their forces are divided now."

"I doubt if we can kill them all, even so."

"We may not need to." Anne motioned to her friend to dismount. "Follow me, and bring whatever you have in your saddlebag."

Which, they discovered when they got somewhat closer to the castle, was very nearly everything. Eleanor had skimped on changes of clothing, but she had not taken any chances when packing scientific equipment. Tools, nuts, bolts, screws, copper piping, steel bases, a few jars of canned lightning, string, wire, sulphur, phosphorus...oh yes, there were plenty of things to work with. Anne couldn't imagine what Eleanor would do with any of them, though.

"We don't have much cover here," Eleanor said with a sigh, staring at the castle and tower standing tall on a high man-made hill and flanked by two castle yards. "Well, I'll have to do the best I can. Can you spare me some of your arrows?"

"You can have them all! Just hurry!"

Eleanor worked swiftly. The first thing she crafted was a metal ball of brass about the size of Anne's head which was covered with dials and mirrors, shrouded in skinsilk that had been brushed with phosphorus, and implanted with a pocket phonograph. The second was a remote to control it. The third looked like a cross between a miniature cannon and a crossbow made of copper, though Anne had never imagined a bow that could fire three bundles of arrows in three different directions at once.

"Now we are ready," she said. "Lie down flat on the ground, Anne. This is going to be a target...at least, until it gets close enough to do what it's designed to do. And I don't want to use the repeating crossbow before its time."

Anne obediently lay down flat on the ground—but kept her head turned to one side so that she could see what was going on. She had no intention of missing this.

Lying down beside her, Eleanor clutched the remote fiercely in one hand as the fingers of the other danced over the keys. "For science!" she growled as the phosphorescent ball lifted itself majestically into the air.

Anne stared at it. "How?"

"A combination of canned lightning and an internal steam engine, of course," Eleanor whispered back. "Now, quiet. I don't want them to hear."

Anne still didn't see what good a ball would do, even if it was floating in mid-air, but then—as if Eleanor had read her mind—the ball turned toward her.

She nearly shrieked. For the ball's skinsilk covering was a mask-like face—empty sockets that nevertheless occasionally glittered with silver, rosy pink skin (which was somehow worse than if it had been dead white, nostrils instead of a nose and slack reddish lips that were just barely open, as if they were about to speak.

"What is that horror?" she whispered as Eleanor twisted a dial on her remote and made the thing drift across the meadow to the shrubbery near the motte where most of the soldiers were trying to conceal themselves.

"You'll see," Eleanor whispered. "At least...I hope you will."

This was not precisely reassuring.

As the ball drew near the shrubbery, an arrow flew at it. Eleanor punched two buttons, and the ball moved deftly to one side.

"Hold!" snarled an angry voice that clearly belonged to the commander. "Don't waste your arrows on a will o' the wisp!"

For a moment, there was silence. Then a young man—probably the archer—said in a strangled voice, "My lord...will o' the wisps do not dodge arrows. Only things that live do that."

"Or that have lived," said the ball in Anne's voice.

Anne gaped at Eleanor, who gave her an impish grin. "Pocket phonographs are such useful things, are they not?"

"It speaks!" This soldier sounded far more frightened than either the commander or the archer had been.

"It's a trick!" snapped the commander—who, Anne had to admit, she would have quite liked if he'd only been on their side.

"No," said the ball. "In life...I was Anne, Queen of England."

"Lies!"

The archer spoke up again. "My lord, I did hear when at the local pub this day..." The rest of the sentence trailed off into unintelligible mutterings, but Anne was certain that the young man was whispering of her many illnesses. Why not? They'd been been common knowledge for months now.

"I heard nothing of her death," the commander said, sounding considerably less certain than he had.

Eleanor's fingers moved over the remote and the ball spoke. "I did perish when that appeared in the sky this eve." And the ball appeared to nod at the night sky.

And now there was a strained silence, for strange sights had been seen in the skies that year, and tonight was no exception. A bright sphere of blue -white light blazed in the sky, surrounded by a pale white halo. It looked like an enormous wheel, endlessly turning, and it was no surprise that many folk had dubbed it the Wheel of Fate. Anne thought it an eerie sight herself, for all that Eleanor had told her that England had simply been blessed this year by a series of fireball meteors.

"Why come you here?" asked the archer. "Er...Your Majesty."

"I do come here because you threaten my closest friend and her family," the mask-shrouded ball said. "I cannot countenance that! I forbid you to harm her or any of her household!"

There were murmurings at this that perhaps it would be best to give the queen what she asked for. The commander, however, was not having any.

"We are here at the king's command."

"Nay," said the masked head in a sorrowful voice. "The king gave not that command, nor knows it has been given."

The commander's voice rang out in challenge. "And if we do attack the castle or seize her husband and children? What then? What dire punishment have you in store for us?"

Eleanor fiddled with the buttons on the remote, and when the masked head spoke again, its voice was still recognizably Anne's, but slower and deeper, and filled with sepulchral echoes. "Do you think that I would punish you for harming an innocent, her husband or her babes? I am but sent to warn thee. An you do obey these false commands, the very vengeance of God shall fall."

"Destroy it," said the commander. "We've heard enough blather."

"But sir--" protested the archer.

"Do it!"

But before the masked head could become a target once again, it shot straight up into the night sky toward the fiery wheel, its mask glowing with an odd, greenish-white phosphorescence. "Remember," it wailed. "Remember, you were warned..."

And then it dove behind the castle.

"A mark to the first man who hits it!" shouted the commander.

"My lord," said the archer, "it's gone. We cannot strike what is not there."

"Follow it, then!"

And a few men did follow it...though, Anne noticed, with quite a bit of nervousness and not a scrap of enthusiasm. A few minutes later, they returned. "'Tis gone, sir. We saw no trace of it, nor heard its voice."

"It can't be gone! Search again."

Another search followed. They too found nothing. As a third group made ready to search, something moved in the shadows near the castle. Slowly, slowly, so slowly that it was almost painful, the masked head approached Anne and Eleanor as it floated bare inches above the earth, clinging to the shadows.

"They're looking for it at man-height or above," Eleanor whispered as she removed the mask, stuffed it back in her toolbag and then put the floating ball in there as well. "It had a human-like face spoke with a human voice and floated at a height level with human eyes, you see, so they're thinking of it as human-sized or more. By this time tomorrow, half the men in this company will believe they saw the pale shade of Anne of Bohemia, crowned and robed like a queen. And the other half will swear that they saw an angel mount up to the sky on wings of fire."

Anne thought about this. It made sense, but she wasn't sure it would be quite as effective as the copper crossbow.

But as she watched, she saw groups of men slipping away in groups of two, three or four. It was clear that most of them had no liking for any assignment that asked them to harm the Duke of Gloucester or his family and that they were choosing to take the floating head as a sign from God. Soon, less than a quarter of the original soldiers—including the stubborn commander, who cursed the air blue with his words about deserters—remained.

"Now do we use the crossbow?"

From inside the castle came a hideous sound—that of metal being torn and twisted. A moment later, a leg of brass and copper came flying from one of the castle windows.

"That for your brassheads, Henry Green!" A woman cried out, her tone exultant. "And that! And that! And that!" Each "that" was punctuated by the sound of shattering crystal and shrieking metal.

Anne turned bewildered eyes toward Eleanor. "Who--?"

"Who else?" Eleanor asked, a wicked glint in her eyes. "Martha."

Of course. A brasshead could not cause harm to come to a human—but another brasshead was fair game.

"Take a look through your spyglass," Eleanor said. "Do you see anyone wincing?"

Anne peered through the glass. "Aye. Just one. And one other staring at the sounds as if they make no sense to him."

"Green and Rhisiart." Eleanor glanced at Anne. "Let's get them both."

They could not make straight for the shrubbery; that would have meant cutting across the meadow in front of the castle's hill, which would have left them with no cover at all. Instead, they went back the way they'd come and circled around, approaching the shrubbery from the back. It was a slower way...but the only safe way.

As they drew near the bushes where the remnants of the army were concealed—and there were only twenty at most, counting the commander, Green and Rhisiart—they could hear Green and the commander arguing.

"It's no good," the commander said, as if he'd said all this before and would stoically say it again. "Your brassheads are smashed, the men have fled, and something claiming to be the Queen—I do not say that it was Good Queen Anne's spirit, but it vanished swiftly enow—has told us now that God's wrath will fall upon us if we do not stop. You say it was a brasshead. Mayhap it was...but my men and I can't find it, and one thing I do know about contrivances made of metal is that they don't melt away into air."

"We are here," Green said between clenched teeth, "at the king's command."

"So you say," replied the commander, sounding distinctly unimpressed. "But that lad by your side—if he is the king--hasn't given a single command while I've been standing here."

Green turned to Rhisiart. "My liege," he said in the most obsequious tone that he could manage while so furious, "this common knotty-pated fool does dare to question your authority!"

"Isn't he the one with the authority?" Rhisiart replied in a bewildered tone. "I thought that he was a hardened soldier, and that this was to be a battlefield. And why do you mock him for being of common blood when your own father was a plain man from Northamptonshire ere my grandfather made him a knight?"

"My liege," Green repeated, this time in a dangerous tone.

"O, leave me be!" Rhisiart buried his face in his hands. "And call me not 'my liege' or 'Your Majesty' or 'my prince,' for indeed such titles belong to those who rule, and what to do I rule, cruel Green? England? Not so. For if I rule England, thou rulest me, and what manner of king cannot rule himself? Nay, do not even call me 'Richard of Bordeaux,' for the name sounds as hollow in mine ears as the wooden clappers of a leper. I have worn so many winters out, and know not now what name to call myself! O! that I were a mockery king of snow!"

"I call you Rhisiart," said Eleanor, stepping forward, copper crossbow in hand. "Do you remember me?"

Rhisiart stared at her, a lost expression sweeping across his face. Beside him, Green was as still as death. "Not well," he said at last. "But I do dimly recall some shadow of a time before I knew myself to be a king, before the only instructions in my mind were his." He glanced at Green and shuddered.

"Your Majesty," Green said, smiling, "how could you possibly know this raggle-taggle beggar maid? Belike she has bewitched you, or cursed you with a fever, or sent a lying spirit in the guise of your wife--"

"Thou?" Anne said in a voice that dripped icy scorn as she pushed through the bushes' branches to face Green. "Thou, of all people, accusing others of lying? A snake could accuse a hot kettle of hissing and be more convincing." She drew her sword and dagger. "And I have had a bellyful of your lies."

"Don't kill him," Eleanor said. "I need him alive."

Anne turned a smoldering glare on her friend. "Do not expect me to spare him."

"Who spoke of sparing him?" Eleanor replied, glancing at Rhisiart sadly for a moment and then gazing at Green with eyes that were chips of glacier ice . "Hurt him as much as you like. I need him alive—not intact."

The chill rage in her voice startled Green, and he took a step backward.

That was a mistake. Anne advanced on him like a hunter advancing on a wounded wild boar—with a watchful eye and a cautious step, but without a moment of hesitation, doubt or fear.

She drove her dagger hilt-deep into his shoulder. "That," she said, yanking it free as Green moaned and his blood spurted, "is for that poor wretch you've enslaved. And this"-- she stabbed the dagger into his inner thigh--"is what you have done to the country. And this"--she drove the sword into his stomach--"is for all the ways that you've hurt my husband and me."

"Husband?" said the commander, sounding confused. To his eyes, Anne resembled a young footman.

No one paid him the slightest bit of attention.

Eleanor studied Green's hemorrhaging body. "Speaking as a student of anatomy, I don't believe that he'll survive that."

"Good."

"It might make finding Richard a trifle more difficult..."

"I think not. Green had a limited number of manors, after all. I know he never would have trusted anyone save himself to hold Richard captive. And he never shipped Richard off to Calais or Guynes; my husband has too many allies there. No, he kept Richard close. I doubt if he did range so far as Northumberland, let alone Scotland or Wales. We'll find him, and that right soon." Anne gazed down at the dying man. "Do you mind?"

"Not particularly," Eleanor admitted. "I wasn't looking forward to questioning him. Bushy and Bagot might object, but I can't think of anyone else who would."

"Tresilian, perhaps."

Eleanor brushed that suggestion off with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm fairly sure that you could claim that it's a royal prerogative to execute traitors. God knows, that excuse has been used before."

"Royal?" said the commander weakly.

"Yes," said Eleanor. "I realize that we're not looking our best at the moment, but then I doubt if many people do look their best after a battle." She frowned. "I also realize that you have orders, but could you please just call out to the castle and tell my husband—truthfully, mind you—that you've changed your mind and you're not going to kidnap or kill him?"

It was a mad request. Men simply did not abandon battle at the request of bedraggled women who claimed to be the Duchess of Gloucester and the Queen of England.

On the other hand, it had been a mad night.

"I thought the queen was dead," the commander said, sounding grievously uncertain of this.

"Oh, she is," said Eleanor cheerfully. "The queen's lying quite dead at Shene this very minute. And she's also here, very much alive. And no brassheads or revivifiers involved, either."

The commander stared at her for a minute, and then turned to Rhisiart. "Er...Your Majesty--"

"Do not call me that!" Rhisiart exclaimed. "I beg of you, do not!"

The commander decided that obedience was best. "Who is this woman?" he asked, nodding toward Eleanor. "And who's the one dressed like a footman?"

Rhisiart looked bewildered. "Why, this is my maman. And the other is my twin brother's wife, Anne."

The commander gaped at him. "Your twin."

Rhisiart nodded.

The commander turned to the archer who had noticed the floating head dodging arrows. "Marshal," he said, "go tell the castle that we surrender."

"Without a fight?"

The commander closed his eyes. "So far tonight two women have summoned either a ghost or an angel, demoralized ninety per cent of my troops, recaptured the mind and will of a king, and slain a tyrant. Now, they may not be the Duchess of Gloucester or the Queen of England, but at this point I think that they've proven that they can be anyone they want. And if we oppose them, I do believe that they'll make mountains float next."

He knelt down in the icy mud before them. "My ladies, we surrender to you and to the inhabitants of the castle. Is that satisfactory?"

"It is," said Anne, motioning Marshal the archer to bear his message to the dwellers of Pleshey Castle. Then she glanced at Eleanor. "What next?"

"Well," Eleanor sighed, "after Thomas lets us in to Pleshey and we get cleaned up, the first thing I need to do is find out what Green did to Rhisiart. Because knowing that could help us find Richard. And once Rhisiart is functional again, we need to make for Hereford."

"Why Hereford?" Anne asked in bewilderment. "Henry Bolingbroke is no ally of Green and his ilk."

"I know," Eleanor said. "But it's likely that we'll have larger armies to deal with soon. And we have a lot of ground to cover looking for Richard, and not much time to do so. Which means we'll need Henry. Because not only is Henry a good soldier—and stubborn enough to stand against his father, if it comes to that—but more importantly, he knows how to pilot a hot-air balloon."

Chapter Text

You're my prisoner, but
Your gaoler shall deliver you the keys
That lock up your restraint. -- Cymbeline, Act I, Scene 1.

 

The Brasshead War—which also became known as the War of the Twins-- lasted about eighteen months...roughly sixteen months after Richard of Bordeaux's escape from the Ghost Tower of Green's castle in Warwickshire.

Anne, unknowingly, had changed the nature of his captivity by stabbing Green. Even after one of Green's few human servants found his three-days-dead corpse—a Dominican chaplain with standing orders to revivify, for Green had no intention of remaining in Hell if he could possibly avoid it...well, there was a reason that people were revivified immediately after death and not days, weeks or months afterward. And while some men had come most of the way back after delayed revivification, most who had risked it had found themselves sadly changed.

And so it was with Green. Though his revivification was technically a success, his post-death self lacked much of his old intelligence and memory. He could scarcely remember who Bushy and Bagot were, much less all of his old machinations to control the country. Though he could not tell what he had lost, he knew that he had lost something vital, and it maddened him.

Nor could he be said to enjoy a healthy body once he came back what had to be called life. He was living—his heart beat, his blood flowed in his veins. But the mark of death remained on him—his eyes very slightly deflated, his skin lightly greasy with the first stage of putrescence. He was an abomination, a mockery of everything that a revivified person could be. By the time he was captured again, trial and executed for treason—at the command of Henry Bolingbroke, who was acting in the name of his cousin Richard—Green's second death was a relief to everyone. Well...all but one.

Thanks to Green's conviction that brassheads made the best gaolers and soldiers, Richard very nearly died. Green had not anticipating losing any of his masked brassheads during the attempt on Pleshey, much less dying himself; indeed, he had not thought of the assault lasting more than a night. The fact that he had sent virtually all of the brassheads who knew where Richard was and that he had to be fed seemed irrelevant. Surely, Richard could fast for one night.

After four days and four nights with no food and no water, Richard faced up to two grim facts:

No one—inside or outside the castle--knew where he was except for Green and his monsters. The monsters hadn't been around for several days. And Green, oddly, didn't seem in a hurry to come back and gloat.

There seemed to be absolutely no way out of here. He was in a cell with no windows, a wall with a one-way mirror, and a locked door. His bed was a pile of straw, and he had one tunic to his name. And one stinking privy hole.

Nothing to work with. Nothing at all.

Except...

Richard gazed at the straw pallet and the privy hole and began to smile.

***

Stuffing straw into an overfilled and gassy privy hole, using part of his tunic as a wick, and then lighting the wick on fire wasn't even remotely heroic, and Richard didn't think that the best balladeer in Europe could have done a thing with the tale, but nevertheless it worked. It blew a hole in the floor, which enabled him to drop down from his cell into a (mercifully) empty and open one—not without injuries, but you couldn't have everything—and from the open door to the stairs.

Had this been a normal castle, the explosion would have caused all sorts of comment and commotion. But the few remaining brassheads were only geared to attend their instructions, nothing more, nothing less. So no servants came flying to see what had caused the explosion; no guards raced toward Richard's cell at the first sign of trouble. The brassheads did not even note that the explosion had taken place.

However, the fact that there were no human servants also meant that there was no food and no clothing for Richard to steal. And, by the time that he had freed himself (and was bitterly aware that he could have done so much earlier if he'd just thought of the method), it was January—a bitter, vicious, iron-cold January.

That Richard survived at all was due to the kindness of common folk: a monk here, a farmer there, a fishwife somewhere else. Oh, there were those who were cruel and selfish, but most were kind, helping him when he was hungry or ailing...and always, always warning him away from those who swore they were defending the realm in the name of King Richard or collecting food for his soldiers.

"There isn't even a real King Richard," one old grandmother confided to him. "The thing they call King Richard is just a poppet. King Henry in't perfect by any means, but he's human and alive."

That was the first time that Richard heard of Henry Bolingbroke referred to as "King Henry." At first it outraged him—how dare his cousin try to steal his throne! But as time wore on, he learned that Henry was searching for his lost cousin, who was presumed dead by everyone but Henry, Eleanor of Gloucester and Richard's wife.

It was reassuring. Someone was looking. Someone cared.

In March, he heard of a meeting between the acting king and his council that would be held the following month in Westminster.

And by the day of the meeting, he was there.

***

The meeting, in Richard's opinion, was odd. He'd never seen his uncles try to persuade a brasshead to abdicate before. Nor had he ever seen a brasshead—and one clad in cloth-of-gold, yet!--so stubbornly refusing.

"I will not abdicate the throne. The throne is not mine to surrender." The brasshead gazed about the room in what looked like desperate appeal. "I will not forswear a crown that is not mine and that I had no right to wear in the first place. The king wanted me to exist so that someone else would reign for him when he was ill or tired—no more. I was never meant to take over. That was Green's idea!"

"You still do swear, Rhisiart, that you know not where Richard of Bordeaux may be?" That was John of Gaunt.

"I do so swear. I don't know where he is."

"Nor his body?

"So far as I know, he lives. I have heard of nothing that persuades me to the contrary."

York spoke up then. "You will agree that it would be better for the ship of state to have a captain."

The brasshead—Rhisiart—nodded. "A good leader is always better than no leader. Of course...no leader maybe better than a bad one."

"But since no one can find Richard..."

It went around and around like a millstone in a mill. At last John of Gaunt spoke up. "I ask you, Hereford, to answer as if you were not my son. Do you covet the throne?"

Henry's answer rang out. "I do." He glanced at his father. "Now, let me answer the questions you should have asked. "Do I think that makes me unusual? No. Do I think that my cousin the king is dead? No. Do I wish for harm to come to my cousin that I may take his throne? No! Do I think he made mistakes? Yes, and grave ones. Do I think that he should lay aside his crown and scepter because of his errors and Henry Green's betrayal? I do not!"

He gazed solemnly about the room. "And were he here this instant, I would tell him so."

The words seemed to shout themelves. "But Iam here!"

And Richard stepped forward, a wretched, ragged figure in homespun.

For a moment, there was silence...and then a perfect babble of voices. Before anyone could summon the guards, however, Anne stepped forward, gripped his bearded chin in her hand and gazed up at him. After a few moments, she beamed. "It is you! Where have you been?"

And after that, there was no help for it. He had to explain about his captivity...and about his wanderings up and down the country since.

"I wasn't a good king," he said softly. "I know that now. The greatest wrong I did was in telling Eleanor of Gloucester that I wanted her to craft a gimmor who would rule for me when ruling was troublesome or tedious. I pressed her on this, though she told me time and again it was unwise. And I made many demands of Rhisiart"--and Rhisiart looked up, astounded that Richard had noticed him. "Too many, in fact.

"Henry has done a good job." This he had to admit grudgingly. . "And I suppose I should turn the government over to him, for he's proven that he can do it.. But I think that if having a gimmor rule for you when ruling is inconvenient is wrong, then how can abdicating to avoid shame and failure and the anger of others be right?

"So I cannot abdicate," he said in a heavy tone. "I cannot be irresponsible again. So I do propose this: that Anne and I rule jointly—for you know she cares for the commons and would not advise me to do anything ill—and that, if we have no children, that Bolingbroke be deemed our heir. He has at least proven to be a good ruler in my absence. I think that would be just."

And, after some debate, his uncles agreed. But at a cost.

"The brasshead," York said firmly. "It has to be destroyed. It is not safe. What happened once could happen again. It is not the creature's fault...but it cannot continue to exist."

To everyone's surprise, Rhisiart agreed. "I am a threat. And though I don't wish to bring harm to you, I could do so just by continuing to exist..." Its voice trailed off. "I—I would not want to do that."

As the room fell silent, Eleanor—who had no business being there, Richard knew, but who had contrived to be here anyway—spoke up. "If...if he has to be destroyed, then let me do it. He's my responsibility."

Gaunt and York nodded. As little as possible.

Richard turned away.

So he didn't see Anne slip off to speak to Eleanor and Rhisiart before they left. Nor did he see Eleanor's face momentarily light with an impish grin.

***

Richard didn't see Eleanor again until Christmastime, when she brought a surprise to the palace. A rather large surprise, in fact. And one that she insisted on giving to Anne and himself in private.

"Why, what have you brought?" Richard asked...and still feeling a bit awkward. It could not have been easy for her, destroying her creation.

"Not what," Eleanor said with a smile. "Who." She glanced at Anne. "This is from both of us, you might say. Anne's been working with me for months to make sure that the gift is absolutely perfect." She turned and beckoned to a figure standing in the shadows just outside the bedchamber.

The man standing there was familiar—and yet he wasn't. Something in his features that said he was a cousin. Yet at the same time, he bore a striking resemblance to a former favorite who had been dark-haired and dark-eyed.

He bowed, and gave Richard and Anne a smile that was both wry and sincere. "A pleasure to meet you...again."

Richard almost jumped. The voice, too, was a blend—partly his favorite's and partly the voice of someone who shouldn't be here at all.

"Rhisiart?" he said with a whisper. "How did you escape?"

"Rhisiart?" the man said, looking amused and then favoring Richard with a look that said I'm lying to you, so pay attention. "Rhisiart was destroyed. Completely. You wouldn't want another threat like that around. It wouldn't be right."

"Then who are you?" Richard asked, barely breathing.

The man gave him a mischievous smile. "Anne says to call me Robbie."

 

FIN